A model of professional self-identity formation in student doctors and dentists: a mixed method study.
BACKGROUND: Professional self-identity [PSI] can be defined as the degree to which an individual identifies with his or her professional group. Several authors have called for a better understanding of the processes by which healthcare students develop their professional identities, and suggested helpful theoretical frameworks borrowed from the social science and psychology literature. However to our knowledge, there has been little empirical work examining these processes in actual healthcare students, and we are aware of no data driven description of PSI development in healthcare students. Here, we report a data driven model of PSI formation in healthcare students. METHODS: We interviewed 17 student doctors and dentists who had indicated, on a tracking questionnaire, the most substantial changes in their PSI. We analysed their perceptions of the experiences that had influenced their PSI, to develop a descriptive model. Both the primary coder and the secondary coder considered the data without reference to the existing literature; i.e. we used a bottom up approach rather than a top down approach. RESULTS: The results indicate that two overlapping frames of reference affect PSI formation: the students' self-perception and their perception of the professional role. They are 'learning' both; neither is static. Underpinning those two learning processes, the following key mechanisms operated:  When students are allowed to participate in the professional role they learn by trying out their knowledge and skill in the real world and finding out to what extent they work, and by trying to visualise themselves in the role.  When others acknowledge students as quasi-professionals they experience transference and may respond with counter-transference by changing to meet expectations or fulfil a prototype.  Students may also dry-run their professional role (i.e., independent practice of professional activities) in a safe setting when invited. CONCLUSIONS: Students' experiences, and their perceptions of those experiences, can be evaluated through a simple model that describes and organises the influences and mechanisms affecting PSI. This empirical model is discussed in the light of prevalent frameworks from the social science and psychology literature.
Crossley, James, GM