Background: The clinical workplace offers residents many opportunities for learning. Reflection on workplace experiences drives learning and development because experiences potentially make residents reconsider existing knowledge, action repertoires and beliefs. As reflective learning in the workplace cannot be taken for granted, we aimed to gain a better insight into the process of why residents identify experiences as learning moments, and how residents reflect on these moments.
Methods: This study draws on semi-structured interviews with 33 medical residents. Interviews explored how residents identified learning moments and how they reflected on such moments, both in-action and on-action. Aiming for extensive explanations on the process of reflection, open-ended questions were used that built on and deepened residents' answers. After interviews were transcribed verbatim, a within-case and cross-case analysis was conducted to build a general pattern of explanation.
Results: The data analysis yielded understanding of the crucial role of the social context. Interactions with peers, supervisors, and patients drive reflection, because residents want to measure up to their peers, meet supervisors' standards, and offer the best patient care. Conversely, quality and depth of reflection sometimes suffer, because residents prioritize patient care over learning. This urges them to seek immediate solutions or ask their peers or supervisor for advice, rather than reflectively deal with a learning moment themselves. Peer discussions potentially enhance deep reflection, while own supervisor involvement sometimes feels unsafe.
Discussion: Our results adds to our understanding of the social-constructivist nature of reflection. We suggest that feelings of self-preservation during interactions with peers and supervisors in a highly demanding work environment shape reflection. Support from peers or supervisors helps residents to instantly deal with learning moments more easily, but it also makes them more dependent on others for learning. Since residents' devotion to patient care obscures the reflection process, residents need more dedicated time to reflect. Moreover, to elaborate deeply on learning moments, a supportive and safe learning climate with peers and supervisors is recommended.
Keywords: Postgraduate medical education; Reflection; Safe learning environment; Social context; Workplace learning.