Professional identity formation in the transition from medical school to working life: a qualitative study of group-coaching courses for junior doctors

BMC Med Educ. 2016 Jun 24:16:165. doi: 10.1186/s12909-016-0684-3.


Background: The transition from student to medical doctor is challenging and stressful to many junior doctors. To practice with confidence and professionalism the junior doctors have to develop a strong professional identity. Various suggestions on how to facilitate formation of professional identity have been offered including the possible positive effect of group-coaching courses. The purpose of this study was to explore how group-coaching might facilitate professional identity formation among junior doctors in the transition period.

Methods: Group-coaching courses comprising three whole-day sessions and five 2 h sessions during a period of 4 months were offered to junior doctors in the first years after graduation. The purpose was to support the participants' professional development, ability to relate to patients, relatives and staff and career development. The coaches in this study had a background as health professionals combined with coaching educations. Data was obtained through observations, open-ended questionnaires and interviews. A generic thematic analysis was applied.

Results: Forty-five doctors participated in six coaching groups. The three main themes emerging in the sessions were: Adoption to medical culture, career planning, and work/life-balance. The junior doctors found the coaching intervention highly useful in order to cope with these challenges. Furthermore, the group was a forum where the junior doctors could share thoughts and feelings with colleagues without being afraid that this would endanger their professional career. Many found new ways to respond to everyday challenges mainly through a new awareness of patterns of thinking and feeling.

Conclusions: The participants found that the group-coaching course supported their professional identity formation (thinking, feeling and acting as a doctor), adoption to medical culture, career planning and managing a healthy work/life-balance. Further studies in different contexts are recommended as well as studies using other methods to test the results of this qualitative study.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological*
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence
  • Education, Medical, Continuing / methods*
  • Education, Medical, Continuing / standards
  • Female
  • Group Processes*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / education*
  • Medical Staff, Hospital / psychology*
  • Mentoring / methods*
  • Program Evaluation
  • Qualitative Research*
  • Schools, Medical*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom