From physiotherapy to the army: negotiating previously developed professional identities in mature medical students

  • Rachel Matthews
  • Kelby Smith-HanEmail author
  • Helen Nicholson


Professional identity formation, the process of transformation from lay person to doctor, is at the heart of medical education. Medical student cohorts can include students who enter medicine from a previous career, i.e. with developed professional identities and who are usually older and more mature. Students with previously developed professional identities may have specific challenges in negotiating their new ‘doctor’ identity. This study examined the development of professional identity in mature medical students who had a variety of previous careers prior to entering medical school. A narrative inquiry was undertaken using interviews of mature medical students with backgrounds that included physiotherapy, clinical physiology, public health and nutrition, and the armed forces. A narrative analysis was conducted combining both thematic and structural perspectives using linguistics and positioning theory as interpretive tools. Three main themes emerged that portray the development processes that arise in this cohort as they develop their medical professional identity: holding back aspects of the previous self; foregrounding aspects of the previous self; and developing new aspects towards forming a ‘new’ self. These themes and their implications are discussed in the context of current literature, highlighting some of the specific challenges that this cohort faces in developing their medical identity. We argue that dedicated faculty and student development be offered, exploring how professional identity formation in mature medical students can be facilitated and supported, so staff and students are better equipped to engage and shape mature students’ professional identity in a meaningful way.


Professional identity formation Mature medical students Older medical students Narrative research Qualitative research 



The authors are grateful to the medical students for providing their time to participate in this study at a difficult time of the year.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Anatomy, School of Biomedical SciencesUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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