Discordance between resident and faculty perceptions of resident autonomy: can self-determination theory help interpret differences and guide strategies for bridging the divide?

Acad Med. 2015 Apr;90(4):462-71. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000522.


Purpose: To identify and interpret differences between resident and faculty perceptions of resident autonomy and of faculty support of resident autonomy.

Method: Parallel questionnaires were sent to pediatric residents and faculty at the University of Rochester Medical Center in 2011. Items addressed self-determination theory (SDT) constructs (autonomy, competence, relatedness) and asked residents and faculty to rate and/or comment on their own and the other group's behaviors. Distributions of responses to 17 parallel Likert scale items were compared by Wilcoxon rank-sum tests. Written comments underwent qualitative content analysis.

Results: Respondents included 62/78 residents (79%) and 71/100 faculty (71%). The groups differed significantly on 15 of 17 parallel items but agreed that faculty sometimes provided too much direction. Written comments suggested that SDT constructs were closely interrelated in residency training. Residents expressed frustration that their care plans were changed without explanation. Faculty reported reluctance to give "passive" residents autonomy in patient care unless stakes were low. Many reported granting more independence to residents who displayed motivation and competence. Some described working to overcome residents' passivity by clarifying and reinforcing expectations.

Conclusions: Faculty and residents had discordant perceptions of resident autonomy and of faculty support for resident autonomy. When faculty restrict the independence of "passive" residents whose competence they question, residents may receive fewer opportunities for active learning. Strategies that support autonomy, such as scaffolding, may help residents gain confidence and competence, enhance residents' relatedness to team members and supervisors, and help programs adapt to accreditation requirements to foster residents' growth in independence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Faculty, Medical*
  • Internship and Residency*
  • New York
  • Pediatrics
  • Personal Autonomy*
  • Professional Autonomy*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires