Exploring deliberate practice in medicine: how do physicians learn in the workplace?

M.W.J. van de Wiel*, P.G.C. van den Bossche, S. Janssen, H. Jossberger

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Medical professionals need to keep on learning as part of their everyday work to deliver high-quality health care. Although the importance of physicians’ learning is widely recognized, few studies have investigated how they learn in the workplace. Based on insights from deliberate practice research, this study examined the activities physicians engage in during their work that might further their professional development. As deliberate practice requires a focused effort to improve performance, the study also examined the goals underlying this behaviour. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 50 internal medicine physicians: 19 residents, 18 internists working at a university hospital, and 13 working at a non-university hospital. The results showed that learning in medical practice was very much embedded in clinical work. Most relevant learning activities were directly related to patient care rather than motivated by competence improvement goals. Advice and feedback were sought when necessary to provide this care. Performance standards were tied to patients’ conditions. The patients encountered and the discussions with colleagues about patients were valued most for professional development, while teaching and updating activities were also valued in this respect. In conclusion, physicians’ learning is largely guided by practical experience rather than deliberately sought. When professionals interact in diagnosing and treating patients to achieve high-quality care, their experiences contribute to expertise development. However, much could be gained from managing learning opportunities more explicitly. We offer suggestions for increasing the focus on learning in medical practice and further research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)81-95
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


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