Reflection revisited: how physicians conceptualize and experience reflection in professional practice – a qualitative study

Elisa Bindels*, Christel Verberg, Albert Scherpbier, Sylvia Heeneman, Kiki Lombarts

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: For the purpose of continuous performance improvement, physicians are expected to reflect on their practice. While many reflection studies are theoretically oriented and often prescriptive in the sense that they conceptualize what reflection should look like, the current study starts with practicing physicians themselves and maps how these physicians conceptualize and experience reflection in daily professional practice. Methods: We conducted a qualitative study using in-depth interviews with 13 hospital-based physicians from various specialties and institutions. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and were analyzed iteratively, following the interpretative phenomenological analysis approach. Results: Data analysis resulted in the identification of three main topics: fuzziness, domain specificity and dialogical dynamics of reflection in professional practice. Reflection was conceptualized as a fuzzy process of contemplation and action, leading to change and hopefully improvement of personal performance and health care in general. Physicians' experiences with reflection were different for the patient domain and the team domain. Whereas experiences in the patient domain were recalled first and discussed in relatively clear terms, those in the team domain came second and were discussed in more ambiguous terms. In order to achieve improvement in daily practice, honest and open dialogues were perceived as necessary. These dialogues were regarded as the result of an interplay between an internal and an external dialogue. The internal dialogue required sensitivity and courage of the individual; the external dialogue required psychological safety and encouragement of the environment. Within the team domain however, handling the external dialogue effectively was not self-evident, underlining the importance of psychological safety. Conclusions: This study draws attention to the interdependence between the individual and the collective contributions to reflective activity in professional practice. Apart from its importance to physicians' individual medical performance, reflective activity is also important to the functioning of a team of physicians. To allow reflection to rise from an individual activity to a team activity, it is necessary to invest in a safe environment in which people are encouraged to think, act, and be engaged.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Medical Education
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2018


  • Reflection
  • Reflective practice
  • Continuing medical education
  • Professional development
  • Qualitative research methods
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Thinking
  • Male
  • Medical Staff, Hospital/psychology
  • Professional Practice/standards
  • Quality Improvement
  • Delivery of Health Care
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Qualitative Research


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