Theory: The link between ownership of patient care and professional identity formation (PIF) has not been formally established, yet PIF researchers frequently cite clinical experiences as powerful contributions to PIF. Hypothesis: Using clinical simulation, this study aimed to explore the relationship between patient care ownership and the cognitive processes involved in the creation of a professional identity. Methods: In 2018–2019, 189 third-year students participated in a simulation in which they were placed in the role of a physician treating a patient in respiratory distress. Data were collected from 12 focus groups (n = 84; 44% of the third-year class), each lasting 15–25 minute. Students were asked four questions designed to identify moments when they felt like a physician and experienced feelings of ownership. Each focus group was transcribed and analyzed for the presence of known elements that contribute to feelings of psychological ownership, and then inductively for how students related their feelings of ownership to their professional identity. Results: When students were asked to take ownership of their patient’s care, they underwent a three-step process: (1) experiencing disorientation, (2) reconceptualizing roles and responsibilities, and (3) reorientation to professional goals. Patient care ownership was disorienting because it marked a departure from the clinical roles the students had previously experienced. While disoriented, students engaged in a process of reflection during which they asked themselves who they were, who they were becoming, and who they needed to become to effectively serve in the role of a physician. This process prompted students to realize the limitations of their clinical reasoning abilities and that the role of a physician requires new ways of thinking. Conclusions: This study advances a conceptual model of PIF that identifies patient care ownership as a catalyst in developing a professional identity. Assuming responsibility for patients places students into an unfamiliar role, which opens a channel for students to access new perspectives in their development as physicians.
- patient ownership
- professional identity formation
- qualitative research
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