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Identity Transformation in Medical Students

Abstract

This paper reviews the literature on the impact of medical school on personal development and consolidation of core identity. The limited literature relies on reports from medical students’ journaling exercises, discussion groups, post-graduation surveys, and repeated personality testing. We review forces acting on medical students, with potential transforming effects. These forces include high external expectations and internal fear of superficial knowledge and skills, entry into the culture of medicine with its insider jargon and hierarchy, high academic workload, and the emotional burdens of confronting cadavers and death as well as bearing witness to patients’ suffering. Potential developmental delay, emergence of substance abuse and hedonic acting out, cynicism, and loss of individual core values are possible consequences. Protections against these adverse outcomes include identification of strong mentors and role models, developing post-conventional morality and relativistic thinking, finding healthy coping strategies such as peer support, and remaining intellectually creative and personally reflective.

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Correspondence to Mitchell J M Cohen.

Additional information

1M.D, is Vice Chair for Education and Director of Pain Medicine Program at Thomas Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, PA, USA.

2M.D., Department of Psychiatry & Human Behavior, Thomas Jefferson Medical College.

3M.D., Cephalon Pharmaceuticals.

4M.D., M.S.Ed., Independent Medical Consulting.

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Cohen, M., Kay, A., Youakim, J. et al. Identity Transformation in Medical Students. Am J Psychoanal 69, 43–52 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1057/ajp.2008.38

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/ajp.2008.38

Keywords

  • cynicism
  • empathic listening
  • imposter syndrome
  • mentor
  • moral development