Professional Identity Formation: A Role for Patients as Mentors

Acad Med. 2020 Oct;95(10):1578-1586. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000003561.


Purpose: Medical education should foster professional identity formation, but there is much to be learned about how to support learners in developing their professional identity. This study examined the role that patients can play in supporting professional identity development during the University of British Columbia Interprofessional Health Mentors Program (HMP), a longitudinal preclinical elective in which patients, or their caregivers, act as mentors and educate students about their lived experience of a chronic condition or disability.

Method: The authors interviewed 18 medical residents in 2016, 3 to 4 years after they completed the HMP. Professional identity was explored by asking participants how the HMP had influenced their ideas about the ideal physician and the kind of doctor they aspire to become. The authors analyzed the data using the identify status paradigm as a conceptual framework.

Results: The authors identified 7 themes: patient as more than disease, patient as autonomous, patient as expert, doctor as partner, doctor as collaborator, self-aware doctor, and empathic doctor. They found firm commitments to patient partnership, interprofessional collaboration, and holistic care for patients rooted in the exploration of professional values that was prompted by patient mentors during HMP.

Conclusions: Patient mentors can help medical students begin to construct their professional identity during the preclinical period by supporting exploration of and commitment to the professional values that society expects of physicians.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Male
  • Mentoring / methods*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Social Identification*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*