Dealing with the tension: how residents seek autonomy and participation in the workplace

Francisco M. Olmos-Vega*, Diana H. J. M. Dolmans, Nicolas Vargas-Castro, Renee E. Stalmeijer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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CONTEXT The workplace can be a strenuous setting for residents: although it offers a wealth of learning opportunities, residents find themselves juggling their responsibilities. Even though supervisors regulate what is afforded to residents, the former find it difficult to strike the proper balance between residents' independence and support, which could create tensions. But what tensions do residents experience during clinical supervision and how do they cope with them to maximise their learning opportunities? Understanding how residents act on different affordances in the workplace is of paramount importance, as it influences their learning.

METHOD Residents from different levels of training and disciplines participated in three focus groups (n = 19) and 10 semi-structured interviews (n = 10). The authors recruited these trainees using purposive and convenience sampling. Audio-recordings were transcribed verbatim and the ensuing scripts were analysed using a constructivist grounded theory methodology.

RESULTS Residents reported that the autonomy and practice opportunities given by their supervisors were either excessive or too limited, and both were perceived as tensions. When in excess, trainees enlisted the help of their supervisor or peers, depending on how safe they recognised the learning environment to be. When practice opportunities were curtailed, trainees tried to negotiate more if they felt the learning environment was safe. When they did not, trainees became passive observers. Learning from each engagement was subject to the extent of intersubjectivity achieved between the actors involved.

CONCLUSIONS Tensions arose when supervisors did not give trainees the desired degree of autonomy and opportunities to participate. Trainees responded in various ways to maximise their learning opportunities. For these different engagement-related responses to enhance workplace learning in specialty training, achieving intersubjectivity between trainee and supervisor seems foundational.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)699-707
Number of pages9
JournalMedical Education
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


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