Experience-based learning: Junior medical students’ reflections on end-of-life care
Methods - We performed dialogic narrative analysis on essays written by junior medical students in New Zealand. Students had reflected on their participation as assistant caregivers in nursing homes, contributing to the personal care of the elderly residents who lived there. Essays had been submitted to a reflective writing competition that was run separately from the students’ medical studies. We analysed five essays about nursing placements, focusing on students’ stories about their engagement with residents who were suffering or were receiving end‐of‐life care.
Results - In their essays, students wrote about powerful and at times intense learning experiences during these early clinical attachments; their attitudes to death and dying were both highlighted and changed. Allied health professionals (e.g. caregivers) provided important support for student learning, especially in relation to seminal encounters such as those occurring in the course of providing end‐of‐life care. Support increased students’ participation and confidence. Reflective writing helped students make sense of their learning and led them to think about their own professional identities, even in the absence of observing or working with doctors in those settings.
Conclusions - Students’ reflections revealed that they tend to filter their learning experiences through the lens of future doctoring, especially when involved in challenging clinical situations. Although medical schools have limited influence on interprofessional relationships or mentoring within the environment of community hospitals, support from other staff can help junior students make the most of their engagement in end‐of‐life care. In‐depth reflection may facilitate the links between experience‐based learning and students’ emerging ideas about their own professional identities, but the underlying mechanisms need further exploration.