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Social Interactions of Clerks: The Role of Engagement, Imagination, and Alignment as Sources for Professional Identity Formation

Adema, Marieke MSc; Dolmans, Diana H.J.M. MSc, PhD; Raat, Janet (A.N.) PhD; Scheele, Fedde; Jaarsma, A. Debbie C. DVM, PhD; Helmich, Esther MD, PhD

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000002781
Research Reports
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Purpose Participating in clinical practice shapes students’ identities, but it is unclear how students build meaningful relationships while “dipping into” various social contexts. This study explored with whom students interacted, which social relationships they built, and how these relationships contributed to the formation of a professional identity.

Method In this longitudinal study at University Medical Center Groningen, University of Groningen, the Netherlands, 9 undergraduate medical students recorded experiences of thinking about themselves as future professionals (September 2015 to March 2017). The authors conducted template analysis using both open coding and a priori themes derived from Wenger’s modes of belonging to communities of practice: engagement, imagination, and alignment.

Results The authors received 205 recorded experiences. While rotating, students used engagement, imagination, and alignment to give meaning to clinical workplace social interactions. Participants considered relationships with doctors, patients, and peers as preconditions for engaging in meaningful experiences. Although imagination and alignment were less represented, discussing imagination with peers and physicians stimulated a deeper understanding of what it means to become a physician. Explicitly being invited “to the table” and awareness of the benefits of being a clerk were instances of alignment that stimulated the development of identities as future doctors.

Conclusions To understand the nature of professional identity formation, Wenger’s modes of belonging must be considered. Where engagement is very prevalent, imagination and alignment are less spontaneously mentioned and therefore more difficult to foster. Looking for ways to support imagination and alignment is important for students’ sensemaking process of becoming a doctor.

M. Adema is a PhD student, Center for Medical Education Development and Research in Health Professions, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands.

D.H.J.M. Dolmans is professor of innovative learning arrangements, School of Health Professions Education, Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands.

A.N. Raat is researcher, Center for Medical Education Development and Research in Health Professions, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands.

F. Scheele is professor of health systems innovation and education, Athena Institute for Transdisciplinary Research, VU University/VU Medical Center and OLVG Teaching Hospital, Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

A.D.C. Jaarsma is professor of health professions education, Center for Medical Education Development and Research in Health Professions, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands.

E. Helmich is senior researcher, Center for Medical Education Development and Research in Health Professions, University Medical Center Groningen, Groningen, the Netherlands.

Funding/Support: The Netherlands Federation of University Medical Centres (NFU).

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: The Ethical Review Board of the Netherlands Association for Medical Education (NVMO-ERB) approved this study (file number: 536).

Correspondence should be addressed to Marieke Adema, University Medical Center Groningen, Center for Education Development and Research in Health Professions (CEDAR), Antonius Deusinglaan 1, 9713 AV Groningen, the Netherlands; telephone: +3 (161) 586-6594; email: m.adema@umcg.nl.

Copyright © 2019 by the Association of American Medical Colleges