Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics


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COMSEP 2012 Indianapolis Meeting

Poster Presentation:

A Pilot Study: Qualitative Analysis of Medical Students' Essays on "Reflective Practice"

Virginia F Randall, MD MPH - USU; Anne B Warwick, MD MPH - USU

Background:  The Uniformed Services University is instituting comprehensive curricular reform to implement recommendations of the recent Carnegie Report.  Self-reflection is described as an important factor in the development of a professional identity.  This pilot study used qualitative analysis to focus on the themes found in essays in an exercise titled “Reflective Practice,” a required component of the 3rd year pediatric clerkship.  In these essays, the student describes a significant event encountered in which professionalism was or was not demonstrated. 

Objective:  The class of 2015 is the first class to participate in the new curriculum. An opportunity exists to describe the pre-reform “baseline” of professional identity development in the classes of 2013 and 2014 in order to explore the effects of curricular change on the classes of 2015 and beyond.  Of particular interest are differences among the students’ approach to professionalism and professional identity development.

Research Methods: Sixty de-identified essays from 3rd year pediatric clerks (AY 2011-2012) were read and scored for themes by two researchers for this pilot study.  The researchers discussed the themes and subthemes until consensus was obtained, using the “grounded theory” approach of Corbin and Strauss (1).

Results:  Two themes emerged: "professional behavior" and "self-reflection."

            Professional behavior subthemes included: recognition of respect for parents’ opinions, advocating for parents, being honest with parents, and displaying empathy.             

            Self-reflection subthemes included: student’s awareness of conflicts, recognition of frustration, anger, their own limitations and strengths, and necessity of self-reflection.

Discussion:  This study used qualitative analysis to extract the themes in 3rd year medical student essays on professionalism in a required clerkship “Reflective Practice” exercise. Professional behavior and self-reflection emerged as themes.  There is ample richness and depth in these data to warrant inclusion in a larger study of professional identity development in the new curriculum.


1.  Corbin J, Strauss A. Basics of Qualitative Research, 3rd ed., 2008.