The importance of reflection

The word ‘reflection’ has an abundance of meanings. According to the Cambridge Dictionary, the first definition of this noun is “the image of something in a mirror or on any reflective surface”. Another definition, more tailored to this blog post, is that reflection is “serious and careful thought”.

Writing or speaking about an experience is easy when you can simply list what you have done, state how it gave you some strengths, and how those strengths can be used in a medical setting as a future doctor. If we all did just this in our applications, all personal statements and Medicine interviews would be boring.

Reflection is also necessary for medical professionals as it is one of the best methods of learning in clinical settings: it’s the greatest building block in learning, which is why medical professionals are expected to be able to carry out this important process in not only medical circumstances but also daily life.

The art of reflection means we can blend actions with learning. Instead of simply listing your achievements, it is crucial to draw on those encounters, whether they are positive or negative, and show that you can learn from them. It is the constant and ever-growing relationship between the actions we take and the thoughts of reflection that allow us to learn effectively, especially in terms of learning from our mistakes.

Let’s discuss some examples!

Starting with a positive experience: you won the national football league during Sixth Form. Different attributes can be highlighted here, such as teamwork, communication skills, and determination. So, instead of focusing on the big picture of winning the league, you should delve into the skills you attained and strengthened. This can include learning how to strategise and collaborate with teammates and adapt your gameplay at different points of the matches.

Using an example of a negative experience may seem bizarre when you are trying to showcase yourself well, but it can be considered easier to reflect from a mistake or error than success. Say you lost the national football league. You can still demonstrate the same skillset as if you had won the league, but you can then add what you learned, points to consider for the future, and then link that with studying Medicine. For example, you could say that in hindsight, you realised that members of your team were not communicating well and were not assisting with each other’s weaknesses. You could also add that during future training sessions, you would endeavour to discuss match plans and weaknesses of all players so that you can fully maximise gameplay. And right there, you have turned a not-so positive event into a bonus outcome just by reflecting. Being mindful and learning from our mistakes is an essential practice in clinical settings as it enables us to learn through experience and mistakes, rather than through the standard textbooks or lectures.

Self-reflection is a big part of the 🔗  Outcome for Graduates by the General Medical Council. This important process enables us to critique our actions, opinions, and behaviours. Reflecting on positive experiences can boost our confidence. Reflecting on negative experiences can demonstrate to yourself that you are actually learning and actively trying to improve. Reflection can also help medical professionals to think of innovative solutions to tasks and problems, as well as to cope with stressful and sophisticated situations, which are important in this growing profession. It is from this palette that we are then able to express our ideas and knowledge to carry out our duties and help patients.

So, ‘reflection’ does indeed have an abundance of meanings. To be able to look at yourself and examine your actions well means you need to dissect your actions with care and realistically accept your successes and wrongdoings. You have to learn from your experiences. Without moments of reflection, learning would be substandard and quite boring, especially in the clinical environment where bedside learning is an integral part of teaching. To show that you has the ability to reflect well demonstrates the growth mindset that Medical Schools are seeking and your willingness to learn and become a good future doctor.

Want to find out more about Reflection?

🔗  General Medical Council Guidance on Reflective Practice

🔗  NHS UK Foundation Programme Reflective Practice Toolkit

🔗  The importance of good reflection: NHS England

🔗  Medical Schools Council: guidance on reflection

Written by Alicia De Vidal

Hi, I’m Alicia, a third-year medical student at the University of Birmingham and the President of BWAMS (Birmingham Widening Access to Medical Sciences). I am interested in Cardiology, Paediatrics, and Forensic Pathology – which inspires my deep fascination for dissection and anatomy. I love reading crime novels and participating in sports. In my leisure time, I enjoy drawing, watching dramas, and playing music – although most of my free time is spent learning and teaching myself Korean.

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