Critical Friends: Health Professionals' Experiences of Collegial Feedback in a Clinical Setting

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Abstract

Introduction:

A critical friend is a trusted person who asks provocative questions, provides data to be examined through another lens, and offers critique of a person's work as part of collegial feedback. However, empirical evidence presenting the use of collegial feedback to develop health professionals' competence in clinical settings seems to be scarce. The aim of this study was to explore health professionals' experiences of observing each other as critical friends in a clinical setting, as part of a continuous professional development initiative.

Methods:

The study was designed as a qualitative inductive study. Reflective journals written by health professionals (n = 57) were analyzed using thematic networks. The health professionals represented registered nurses and registered nurses with different specialist education (eg, in pediatrics, mental health, intensive care, and anesthesiology), biomedical scientists, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, and dental hygienists.

Results:

Health professionals can successfully use collegial feedback and benefit from critical friendships in clinical settings as it offers ample opportunities for reflection before, during, and after the observation. A key finding was that to incorporate changes to professional practice, each individual needs to not only act as a critical friend but also experience being observed by a critical friend.

Discussion:

Based on the results of this study, it seems worthwhile to implement and further develop opportunities for health professionals to act as critical friends. We suggest that future research explore not only how professional competence develops over time but also how it impacts on health-related outcomes for patients.

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