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The Art of Being Reflective

What do you think of when someone asks you to ‘reflect’? Sometimes it can appear as a vague and abstract concept. Some people think it is a waste of time to relive a situation, especially the negative ones, that they have already experienced, and others absolutely love it. But in reality, what is it?

Reflection is simply defined as ‘serious thought or consideration’ (Oxford Dictionary1). We reflect on situations to give us some insight as to why certain things have happened in the way that they did. It is from there we can adapt our reactions. Whilst we may not be able to completely rationalise occurrences based on our memories (which are prone to change), by reflecting soon after an event, we can see what we did well and where we can improve. A common misconception is that the products of our reflections will be purely negative, but not every experience is a bad one. If something goes well, considering whythis happened is also an important skill. By drawing out these points, we can continue with our successful behaviours and cultivate new approaches to our areas of weakness.

Being able to reflect is important at all stages of the medical journey. Whether you are a prospective medical student, currently in medical school or practising in the medical field, reflection is a essential part of your personal and professional development. Without reflection, it is unlikely that we can make meaningful improvements to the way we react to certain things. Maybe you had an interview that you didn’t think went particularly well, or you had a really inspiring and insightful encounter with a patient on your placement. Maybe you didn’t do so well on a mock exam, or maybe you achieved your highest grade ever. Regardless of what happened, there is always some way to identify the good and bad aspects to guide you on how you respond. The GMC encourages us to be ‘reflective practitioners’. Reflective practice has been defined as “the process whereby an individual thinks analytically about anything relating to their professional practice with the intention of gaining insight and using the lessons learned to maintain good practice or make improvements where possible” (The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges and COPMeD2). By completing a reflective exercise, we can have considerable impact on not only our own practice and skills, but also greatly improve the care that our patients receive.

So how can we reflect? It doesn’t always have to be a big thing. Reflection can come in different forms – sometimes you can just take a quick second before you go to bed or while making dinner and ask yourself ‘why did this happen?’. Or you may choose to formally write it down and spend a little longer unpicking the situation. It’s up to you. Try and answer these questions:

1. What happened?

2. What did I do well?

3. What could I have done better?

4. What will I change in the future?

The most important thing is that you whatever you identify you then use to build an action plan for the future. This is especially important in negative situations. Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. You will never improve if you never think of a way to change. You don’t have to do this on your own, but it’s up to you to implement these plans. Then reflect again in the future to assess if they have had any effect (positive or negative).

Written by Ewaola Apooyin


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