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Fam Med. 2013 Jan;45(1):13-8.

Professional formation and deformation: repression of personal values and qualities in medical education.

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Department of Medicine, University of California-San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94143-0320, USA.



During medical training, students gain professional competence but may lose elements of personal humanity. Little is known about what personal qualities or values students themselves experience to be at risk or surrendered during medical school.


Medical students participating in the Healer's Art elective in the United States and internationally during 2008--2009 were asked to reflect, identify, and draw a part of themselves that they were wary about revealing, not comfortable showing, or felt may be diminished in medical school and label this part with a word. Using a team-based qualitative approach, these words were categorized into common themes and the themes analyzed using descriptive and chi-square statistics.


Words from 673 students from 31 medical schools were analyzed. Most students were female (58.7%) and in their first year (86.3%). Eleven themes were identified: spirituality, emotional engagement, identity/self-expression, freedom/spontaneity, relationships, self-care, creativity, negative emotions, values, other, and joy/happiness. The most common individual words used were creativity, family, balance, freedom, love, peace, compassion, relationships, and reflection. There were only rare differences in distributions of themes across gender, year in school, school size, or school nationality.


An international cadre of Healer's Art students identified core personal qualities and values that they may not reveal or feel may be diminished in medical school. Medical training involves not only professional formation but exposure to professional deformation as well. Educators must attend to both gains in professional competence and the personal qualities and values that are at risk in the course of professional development.

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