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Med Educ. 2011 Jun;45(6):625-35. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2010.03910.x.

Thinking critically about critical thinking: ability, disposition or both?

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1
Center for Evaluation, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02115, USA. ed_krupat@hms.harvard.edu

Abstract

OBJECTIVES:

The objectives of this study were to determine the extent to which clinician-educators agree on definitions of critical thinking and to determine whether their descriptions of critical thinking in clinical practice are consistent with these definitions.

METHODS:

Ninety-seven medical educators at five medical schools were surveyed. Respondents were asked to define critical thinking, to describe a clinical scenario in which critical thinking would be important, and to state the actions of a clinician in that situation who was thinking critically and those of another who was not. Qualitative content analysis was conducted to identify patterns and themes.

RESULTS:

The definitions mostly described critical thinking as a process or an ability; a minority of respondents described it as a personal disposition. In the scenarios, however, the majority of the actions manifesting an absence of critical thinking resulted from heuristic thinking and a lack of cognitive effort, consistent with a dispositional approach, rather than a lack of ability to analyse or synthesise.

CONCLUSIONS:

If we are to foster critical thinking among medical students, we must reconcile the way it is defined with the manner in which clinician-educators describe critical thinking--and its absence--in action. Such a reconciliation would include consideration of clinicians' sensitivity to complexity and their inclination to exert cognitive effort, in addition to their ability to master material and process information.

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