, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 411-429

A study of critical reflection in health professional education: ‘learning where others are coming from’

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Abstract

A dominant focus of clinical education for health professional students is experiential learning through an apprentice model where students are exposed to a range of clinical scenarios and conditions through observation initially, and then through supervised clinical practice. However experiential learning may not be enough to meet the need for health professionals to be flexible, self-aware and understanding of alternative perspectives or ‘where other people are coming from.’ Critical reflection skills are recognised as a way of thinking and a process for analysing practice, that enables learning from, and redeveloping professional practice in an ongoing way. This paper describes and examines the effect of a three hour per week, six week critical reflection program, grounded in knowledge paradigms of postmodernism, reflexivity and critical theory, on third year undergraduate physiotherapy students’ experience of their first clinical placements. The theoretical basis of the program provides a potential bridge with which to link and broaden the established framework of clinical reasoning theories. Within the program, students’ critical reflection discourse focused on notions of power, hierarchies, connecting with others and relationships. Their feedback about the effects of the program highlighted themes of validation and sharing; a break in clinical performance and a broadening of their spheres of knowledge. These themes resonated with students’ overall experiences of learning in clinical placements and provide some evidence for the inclusion of critical reflection as a valid and worthwhile component of early clinical education.