Reframing professional identity through navigating tensions during residency: A qualitative study

Wil L. Santivasi, Hannah C. Nordhues, Frederic W. Hafferty, Brianna E. Vaa Stelling, John T. Ratelle, Thomas J. Beckman, Adam P. Sawatsky

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Professional identity formation (PIF) is the internalization of characteristics, values, and norms of the medical profession. An individual’s identity formation has both psychological and sociological influences. Social psychology may be useful to explore the interactions between the psychological and sociological aspects of PIF. In this study, we explored how resident physicians navigated tensions between professional ideals and the reality of medical practice to characterize PIF during residency training. Methods: Using constructivist grounded theory, the authors conducted 23 semi-structured interviews with internal medicine residents. Interview transcripts were processed through open coding and analytic memo writing. During data gathering and analysis, the authors utilized Social Cognitive Theory, specifically the bidirectional influence between person, behavior, and context, to analyze relationships among themes. Theoretical insights were refined through group discussion and constant comparison with newly collected data. Results: Residents described tensions experienced during residency between pre-existing ideals of “a good doctor” and the realities of medical practice, often challenging residents to reframe their ideals. The authors provide evidence for the presence of dynamic, bidirectional influences between identity (person), behavior, and environment (context), and demonstrate how PIF is informed by a complex interplay between these elements. The authors present two examples to demonstrate how residents reframed their ideals during residency training. Discussion: The complex bidirectional influences between person, behavior, and context, informed by SCT, helps illuminate the process of PIF in residency training. This study highlights the effects of the context of residency training on the development of residents’ professional identities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)93-100
Number of pages8
JournalPerspectives on Medical Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Postgraduate medical education
  • Professional identity formation
  • Qualitative research
  • Social cognitive theory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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