Emotional Learning and Identity Development in Medicine: A Cross-Cultural Qualitative Study Comparing Taiwanese and Dutch Medical Undergraduates

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Abstract

Purpose

Current knowledge about the interplay between emotions and professional identity formation is limited and largely based on research in Western settings. This study aimed to broaden understandings of professional identity formation cross-culturally.

Method

In fall 2014, the authors purposively sampled 22 clinical students from Taiwan and the Netherlands and asked them to keep audio diaries, narrating emotional experiences during clerkships using three prompts: What happened? What did you feel/think/do? How does this interplay with your development as a doctor? Dutch audio diaries were supplemented with follow-up interviews. The authors analyzed participants’ narratives using a critical discourse analysis informed by Figured Worlds theory and Bakhtin’s concept of dialogism, according to which people’s spoken words create identities in imagined future worlds.

Results

Participants talked vividly, but differently, about their experiences. Dutch participants’ emotions related to individual achievement and competence. Taiwanese participants’ rich, emotional language reflected on becoming both a good person and a good doctor. These discourses constructed doctors’ and patients’ autonomy in culturally specific ways. The Dutch construct centered on “hands-on” participation, which developed the identity of a technically skilled doctor, but did not address patients’ self-determination. The Taiwanese construct located physicians’ autonomy within moral values more than practical proficiency, and gave patients agency to influence doctor–patient relationships.

Conclusions

Participants’ cultural constructs of physician and patient autonomy led them to construct different professional identities within different imagined worlds. The contrasting discourses show how medical students learn about different meanings of becoming doctors in culturally specific contexts.

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