Personal growth in medical faculty: a qualitative study

West J Med. 2001 Aug;175(2):92-8. doi: 10.1136/ewjm.175.2.92.


Background: A physician's effectiveness depends on good communication, and cognitive and technical skills used with wisdom, compassion, and integrity. Attaining the last attributes requires growth in awareness and management of one's feelings, attitudes, beliefs, and life experiences. Yet, little empiric research has been done on physicians' personal growth.

Objective: To use qualitative methods to understand personal growth in a selected group of medical faculty.

Design: Case study, using open-ended survey methods to elicit written descriptions of respondents' personal growth experiences.

Setting: United States and Great Britain.

Participants: Facilitators, facilitators-in-training, and members of a personal growth interest group of the American Academy on Physician and Patient, chosen because of their interest, knowledge, and experience in the topic area and their accessibility.

Measurements: Qualitative analysis of submitted stories included initially identifying and sorting themes, placing themes into categories, applying the categories to the database for verification, and verifying findings by independent reviewers.

Results: Of 64 subjects, 32 returned questionnaires containing 42 stories. Respondents and nonrespondents were not significantly different in age, sex, or specialty. The analysis revealed 3 major processes that promoted personal growth: powerful experiences, helping relationships, and introspection. Usually personal growth stories began with a powerful experience or a helping relationship (or both), proceeded to introspection, and ended in a personal growth outcome. Personal growth outcomes included changes in values, goals, or direction; healthier behaviors; improved connectedness with others; improved sense of self; and increased productivity, energy, or creativity.

Conclusions: Powerful experiences, helping relationships, and introspection preceded important personal growth. These findings are consistent with theoretic and empiric adult learning literature and could have implications for medical education and practice. They need to be confirmed in other physician populations.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Emotions
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Human Development*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physicians / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires