What Attitudes and Values Are Incorporated Into Self as Part of Professional Identity Construction When Becoming a Surgeon?

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Abstract

Purpose

To make explicit the attitudes and values of a community of surgeons, with the aim of understanding professional identity construction within a specific group of residents.

Method

Using a grounded theory method, the authors collected data from 16 postgraduate surgeons through interviews. They complemented these initial interview data with ethnographic observations and additional descriptive interviews to explore the attitudes and values learned by surgeons during residency training (2010–2013). The participants were attending surgeons and residents in a general surgical training program in a university teaching hospital in the United Kingdom.

Results

Participating surgeons described learning personal values or attitudes that they regarded as core to “becoming a surgeon” and key to professional identity construction. They described learning to be a perfectionist, to be accountable, and to self-manage and be resilient. They discussed learning to be self-critical, sometimes with the unintended consequence of seeming neurotic. They described learning effective teamwork as well as learning to take initiative and be innovative, which enabled them to demonstrate leadership and drive actions and agendas forward within the health care organization where they worked.

Conclusions

To the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to systematically explore the learning of professional identity amongst postgraduate surgeons. The study contributes to the literature on professional identity construction within medical education. The authors conclude that the demise of the apprenticeship model and the rise of duty hours limitations may affect not only the acquisition of technical skills but, more important, the construction of surgeon professional identity.

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