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Med Educ. 2019 Feb;53(2):119-132. doi: 10.1111/medu.13781.

Is research on professional identity formation biased? Early insights from a scoping review and metasynthesis.

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Department of Humanities, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA.
Departments of Humanities and Public Health Sciences, Medical Education Research, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA.
Departments of Medicine and Humanities, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA.
Harrell Health Sciences Library, Penn State College of Medicine, Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA.



Despite a recent surge in literature identifying professional identity formation (PIF) as a key process in physician development, the empiric study of PIF in medicine remains in its infancy. To gain insight about PIF, the authors examined the medical literature and that of two other helping professions.


The authors conducted a scoping review and qualitative metasynthesis of PIF in medicine, nursing and counselling/psychology. For the scoping review, four databases were searched using a combination of keywords to identify empiric studies on PIF in trainees. After a two-step screening process, thematic analysis was used to conduct the metasynthesis on screened articles.


A total of 7451 titles and abstracts were screened; 92 studies were included in the scoping review. Saturation was reached in the qualitative metasynthesis after reviewing 29 articles.


The metasynthesis revealed three inter-related PIF themes across the helping professions: the importance of clinical experience, the role of trainees' expectations of what a helping professional is or should be, and the impact of broader professional culture and systems on PIF. Upon reflection, most striking was that only 10 of the 92 articles examined trainee's sociocultural data, such as race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age and socio-economic status, in a robust way and included them in their analysis and interpretation. This raises the question of whether conceptions of PIF suffer from sociocultural bias, thereby disadvantaging trainees from diverse populations and preserving the status quo of an historically white, male medical culture.


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