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Author: Holly M

Fourth Year Medical Student

Why Reflection Is Important For Your Medical Journey

What is reflection?

Reflection is how we process what has happened to us / around us or because of us. We reflect all the time on things, sometimes without even thinking about it.

Questions such as ‘why did it happen?’, ‘what did I do to make it better?’, ‘who is responsible?’ and ‘what would I want to do differently?’, are all examples of reflective questions.

Why is reflection important?

Reflection is critical, as it allows us to take time to learn from what has happened and what we have done. Which, in turn, allows us to do better next time. 

As a medical student and doctor, reflection is incredibly important. If you can get a good understanding and try to start developing your reflective skills now, you will be in really great stead to progress and build on this. 

In this article, we will explore;

  • GMC guidelines,
  • common frameworks used for reflection,
  • why reflection is critical as a student applying to medicine,
  • as a medical student,
  • and as a doctor. 

I have also included some extra reading at the end that you might like to work your way through. As with all additional reading, it is worth taking notes as you go along so that you can use them in your personal statement and in medical school interviews.

GMC Guidelines and reflection

What are the GMC guidelines?

GMC guidelines are set by the General Medical Council (the GMC). The GMC’s primary role is to manage the Medical Register. This is the list that contains the names of doctors who are able to practice in the UK. The GMC can add and remove people from this list. The GMC also tells medical schools what standards have to be met, and it also sets the standards for good medical practice.

Is reflection part of GMC guidelines?

Yes. Reflection is a key part of good medical practice, so the GMC provides guidance on how to be a ‘reflective practitioner’. This guidance includes 10 top tips (including the importance of data remaining anonymous), why being a reflective practitioner is important, different reflection processes, how to demonstrate reflection and the disclosure of reflective notes.

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What tools/frameworks can I use to reflect?

Timeliness is essential

The main advice from most guidance on reflective writing is to write it down as soon as you can after it happens. Even if you don’t have enough time to write down everything in a coherent and structured format, scribble down a few keynotes.

Later you can come back to it and write everything properly. It is better than waiting until you have enough time to write your reflection in full.

Keep a specific reflective journal

To do this, keeping a specific reflective journal or note section in your phone can be really useful, but if you do this, remember to make sure that the information is anonymous (so the patient couldn’t be identified from what you have written).

The ‘What? So what? Now what?’ framework

‘What? So what? Now what?’ framework is one that can be used to help you with your reflective writing.

What?

The ‘what?’ part focuses on what you were thinking and feeling at the time of the event. Also, how this affected you and what you did. Equally, it is worth including a brief intro of what was happening in the ‘what?’ and what you imagined other people might have been feeling or thinking.

So what?

The ‘so, what?’ is the part of your reflective writing where you reflect on the significance of this event. What was so important about this event that made you want to write a reflective piece on it? What is the impact of this event?

The impact could be on you, on the patient or it could even have a wider impact on a whole medical team, hospital, establishment, or public opinion etc.

Now what?

‘Now what?’ is your opportunity in your reflective piece to show what you have taken away from this experience. In this part, try to cover any future learning opportunities or targets.

You can structure your targets to make sure that they are ‘SMART’. SMART stands for specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-based. By making your target a SMART target, you can make sure it is easy enough to achieve and worth achieving. And you can figure out if you did manage to achieve it!

Be personal

‘However, the most important thing to remember is that reflection is always a personal thing. Reflect on things that are important to you, and never feel as if you have to compromise on your own reflective experience in order to fit a specific reflective writing format.

Why is it an important skill to learn when applying to medical school? 

Reflection is key to a successful medical school application. Your personal statement, medical school interviews and any additional question forms that you have to answer all rely on your ability to be able to reflect well.

This is especially true when it comes to writing or talking about any volunteering or medical work experience that you have undertaken. Even if you have managed to volunteer every day of the week and have got to do some really great and interesting work experience, this is all useless if you are unable to reflect well on them.

Develop your reflective skills

Because this is the case, I would advocate taking some time to develop your reflective writing skills. Jot down interesting and thought-provoking events that happen during your volunteering and work experience. It will prove helpful for when you come to write your personal statement or want to refresh yourself on what you have done before a medical school interview.

In writing down your experiences, drafting out personal statements and practising medical school interview questions, you will develop your own reflective style.

Why is it important in medical school?

Reflective writing will be a part of your course

Reflection and reflective writing will become even more important when you start medical school. Firstly, reflective writing will most probably be integrated into your course. You will be expected to complete reflective writing in some guise.

Indeed, it may even form part of your exams and requirements for passing academic years. If you are unable to write reflectively, you may even struggle to progress through medical school.

10. Believe in yourself

Perhaps more importantly, however, is how reflective writing can help you through medical school. Reflecting on good and difficult patient interactions, exam successes and failures, and your own limitations can all help you to progress, improve, learn from your mistakes. It can also help you do the best that you can in medical school, and help you become the best doctor you can be.

Why is it important past medical school?

Reflective writing and reflection will be important throughout your entire medical career. It will help you deal with the uncertainty, failures and challenges that your career inevitably will bring.

It is also important, as you may need to be able to show that you have documented everything correctly and have good reflective practice in the event of court case or a fitness to practice hearing.

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