Reflection, dialogue, and the possibilities of space

Acad Med. 2015 Mar;90(3):283-8. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000582.


To educate physicians who are capable of delivering ethical, socially responsible, patient-centered care, there have been calls for identifying curricular space for reflection on the human and societal dimensions of medicine. These appeals, however, beg the question: What does it mean to devote space in an otherwise busy curriculum for these types of reflection? This Perspective is an attempt to understand the nature of this educational space in terms of its purpose, uses, dynamics, and limitations, and the underlying components that allow reflection and transformation to occur. Reflections on psychosocial themes often take the form of dialogues, which differ from the discussions commonly encountered in clinical settings because they require the engagement of the participants' whole selves--life experiences, backgrounds, personal values, beliefs, and perspectives--in the exchanges. Dialogues allow for the inclusion of affective and experiential dimensions in addition to intellectual/cognitive domains in learning, and for an emphasis on discovering new perspectives, insights, and questions instead of limiting participants solely to an instrumental search for solutions. Although these reflections may vary greatly in their form and settings, the reflective space requires three qualities: safety and confidentiality, an intentional designation of a time apart from the distractions of daily life for reflection and dialogue, and an awareness of the transitional nature--the liminality--of a critically important period of professional identity development. In this open space of reflection and dialogue, one's identity as a humanistic physician takes form.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cognition
  • Communication
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Mindfulness
  • Patient-Centered Care*