Feedback to Supervisors: Is Anonymity Really So Important?

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Abstract

Purpose

Research demonstrates that physicians benefit from regular feedback on their clinical supervision from their trainees. Several features of effective feedback are enabled by nonanonymous processes (i.e., open feedback). However, most resident-to-faculty feedback processes are anonymous given concerns of power differentials and possible reprisals. This exploratory study investigated resident experiences of giving faculty open feedback, advantages, and disadvantages.

Method

Between January and August 2014, nine graduates of a Canadian Physiatry residency program that uses open resident-to-faculty feedback participated in semistructured interviews in which they described their experiences of this system. Three members of the research team analyzed transcripts for emergent themes using conventional content analysis. In June 2014, semistructured group interviews were held with six residents who were actively enrolled in the program as a member-checking activity. Themes were refined on the basis of these data.

Results

Advantages of the open feedback system included giving timely feedback that was acted upon (thus enhancing residents’ educational experiences), and improved ability to receive feedback (thanks to observing modeled behavior). Although some disadvantages were noted, they were often speculative (e.g., “I think others might have felt …”) and were described as outweighed by advantages. Participants emphasized the program’s “feedback culture” as an open feedback enabler.

Conclusions

The relationship between the feedback giver and recipient has been described as influencing the uptake of feedback. Findings suggest that nonanonymous practices can enable a positive relationship in resident-to-faculty feedback. The benefits of an open system for resident-to-faculty feedback can be reaped if a “feedback culture” exists.

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