Professionalism in dental education: Perceptions and influences on development of learners
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The General Dental Council in its latest educational review placed professionalism at the heart of its education agenda and developed corresponding learning outcomes (GDC, 2015). This interpretivist qualitative study aimed to delineate perceptions about dental students’ development of professionalism and explore significant influences on this development by examining the perceptions of dental students, their patients and teachers. Purposive sampling of students, patients and teachers ensured representation of diverse perspectives through focus groups and individual semi-structured interviews. An initial inductive thematic analysis was compared with theoretical perspectives on learning and the Illeris (Illeris, 2004) model of learning was selected for further theoretically driven analysis. Students, patients and teachers identified relational skills as an essential part of professionalism. Differences lay in the emphasis placed by students on being a ‘well-rounded professional’, patients wanting to be treated as a ‘person as well as a patient’ and teachers focusing on ‘professional values’. As the students’ clinical responsibility increased, their perceptions evolved from abstract values to pragmatic reality which mirrors the trajectory of the professionalism literature over the past twenty years. Students were influenced by planned curriculum content and unplanned experiences. Patients motivated students with feedback and reassurance and acted as mentors. Their teachers served as positive and negative role models. Teachers’ expressed confusion and identified a gap between the actuality and ideal teaching of professionalism. Learning occurred as a result of simultaneous and multiple interactions within the individual, with the environment and with patients. This study validates the multidimensional intricacy of professionalism. Students identified constructive and adverse experiences which allowed them to develop empathy, take on responsibility for patient care and model themselves on their teachers. The emotional and social interactions involved in these experiences generated a creative ‘tension field’ of learning leading to the development of professionalism.
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