Educating for professionalism: trainees' emotional experiences on IM and pediatrics inpatient wards

Acad Med. 2003 Jul;78(7):730-41. doi: 10.1097/00001888-200307000-00017.


Purpose: To assess day-to-day emotions and the experiences that trigger these emotions for medical trainees in hospital settings. The overarching goal was to illuminate training experiences that affect professional behaviors of physicians.

Method: This qualitative study, conducted April-June 2000, used semistructured, open-ended interviews, observations by a non-participant, and a self-report task at two inpatient services (internal medicine and pediatrics) at different hospitals within a single academic institution in the northwestern United States. Twelve team members, including medical students, interns, residents, and attendings, were invited to participate. Ten completed all aspects of the study. Interviews were conducted before and after a one-week period of non-participant observations and self-report tasks. The authors grouped emotional experiences into "positive" or "difficult" emotions. Data were analyzed for coherent themes using grounded theory and content analysis.

Results: Positive emotions included gratitude, happiness, compassion, pride, and relief, and were triggered by connections with patients and colleagues, receiving recognition for one's labors, learning, being a part of modern medicine, and receiving emotional support from others. Difficult emotions included anxiety, guilt, sadness, anger, and shame and were triggered by uncertainty, powerlessness, responsibility, liability, lack of respect, and a difference in values. Tragedy and patients' suffering was the only trigger to elicit both positive (compassion) and difficult (sadness) emotions.

Conclusion: This study identified common and important emotions experienced by medical trainees and the common triggers for these emotions. Understanding trainees' experiences of uncertainty, powerlessness, differing values, and lack of respect can guide education program designs and reforms to create an environment that fosters professional growth.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Academic Medical Centers
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Data Collection / methods
  • Emotions*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internal Medicine / education*
  • Male
  • Pediatrics / education*
  • Professional Role
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • United States