Reflective practice continues to gain ground in the health sector and I am here for it.
And so are you: this episode on reflective practice is one of our all-time most popular, from more than two and a half years ago.
I was recently asked by a listener to rebroadcast this episode, and I’m happy to let some of our newer listeners find out why it’s one of our most popular episodes. Listen here, and read the transcript below.
This podcast series, you might already know, is largely my attempts to bring some of what I know from my part of the language literacy and education world into the health sector in a way that’s hopefully gettable by and useful to folks in clinical medicine, academic medicine, medical education, public health. And I work really hard to do this kind of translating work. But I’m never really sure, you know, when an episodes going to hit. When it’s going to grab, and begine to really get some traction.
And when it does, awesome! It’s the best feeling! That’s why I’m here!
I recently had an email from a listener James who asked if we could replay a specific episode. And I was thrilled to get that request because it happens to be one of our most popular episodes of all time. It’s back from March 2018, so it was an early hit for us. And it’s one that’s really close to my heart. Not just because it was an early hit, although that helps too, but because it’s about reflective practice. Which, if you know me, you know this is central to the way I do things.
So I want to thank James for writing, and for giving me the excuse to bump this episode back up to the top of the queue. It’s called “12 reflective practice prompts for health professionals.”
Hey everybody, welcome. This is 10 Minutes to Better Patient Communication from Health Communication Partners and I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel, and I have a new microphone, woo-hoo!
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Reflective practice is a broad umbrella term that covers many different understandings of and approaches to reflection (and practice).
In the health sector, there seems to be support of reflection as a skill.
Health professionals all require critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and reflective practice has been used to support these.
Reflection is used to increase metacognition. It is sometimes invoked as a way to connect theory to practice, or to enhance communication. Professionals reflect in classes, in continuing education, or in communities of practice; alone, in dyads, or in small groups.
One literature review points out the variation in what reflective practice means, and how it is facilitated and assessed, in medical education. This literature review finds similar results in pharmacy education, pointing out the conflicting interpretations and applications of the term ‘reflective practice.’
I highly recommend both these literature reviews for references on reflective practice in health professions. Citations of course in the show notes.
Both also cite Donald Schön, whose highly-influential books The Reflective Practitioner and Educating the Reflective Practitioner describe and analyze reflection-in-action across multiple professions and professional contexts.
In Educating the Reflective Practitioner, Schön explains why this is important:
[T]he problems of real-world practice do not present themselves to practitioners as well-formed structures. Indeed, they tend not to present themselves as problems at all but as messy, indeterminate situations. Often, situations are problematic in several ways at once. These indeterminate zones of practice—uncertainty, uniqueness, and value conflict—escape the canons of technical rationality. It is just these indeterminate zones of practice, however, that practitioners and critical observers of the professions have come to see with increasing clarity over the past two decades as central to professional practice. (p. 4)
What I want to share here is a key tool in reflective practice: questioning or problem-posing as a way to begin to investigate and address the ‘problems of real-world practice.’
If I hear ‘what could you have done differently’ posed as a ‘reflective practice’ question one more time, I’ll scream.
So instead, I’m going to give you twelve prompts that you can ask yourself when you wish to engage in some critical reflection.
These questions are designed to get at your taken-for-granted beliefs and actions. Things that tend to slide by, invisible, barely noticed. They encourage you to question structures, processes, and practices (as these authors do), accepting current arrangements not as given or natural but as politically and historically situated (as these authors point out).
These questions are aimed at those times when you are educating—a patient, a client, or a student. But they can have broader applicability. Overall, they are designed to encourage you to take a critical view of the customary practices and conventional roles enacted during education in your practice context.
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After each, there always is a follow-up question: what implications does your answer have for your practice? In other words, why might this matter to you and your work with patients, clients, or students?
Now I’m going to refer to patients but please understand I mean students and clients as well.
- Which patients tend to draw your attention? Why do you think this is? Which patients tend to escape your notice? Why do you think this is?
- Are there patients you find it difficult to get along with, or relate to, or reach? How do you feel about this?
- What information or knowledge are you assuming patients have when they meet with you? Where would they have acquired this knowledge or information? How have you responded when they do not appear to have this knowledge or information?
- What’s presenting a challenge to you recently when it comes to patient education, that you did not think would present a challenge?
- Did anything a patient did or said surprise you this week? What was it? Why was it surprising to you? What would it be like if patients surprise you more often? Have you surprised yourself lately? How?
- What’s going on around you that piques your curiosity this week? That you’d like to give more time and attention to, if you could?
- The next time you meet with a patient, how are you talking to this person? What do you tend to think of people from that social group? How might your conversational dynamics be reflecting some unconscious biases and stereotypes?
- If you broke down the time you spent this week on different tasks and put it on a chart or graph, what would it look like? To what extent does this match your idea of a successful or productive use of your time?
- What have you done this week that you were proud of, no matter how simple it might sound?
- Are there times you are unsure of what you are communicating to a patient or colleague? How do you deal with this?
- If you could wave a magic wand and give yourself the insights, knowledge, dispositions or skills you need in order to succeed this week, what would you give yourself?
- What clever hacks, little-known tricks, or productivity boosts have you discovered lately? What might these be telling you about yourself, or your context?
Again, the important question at the end of each set is always: what implications does this have for your practice?
Reflection is an important process for any profession. It’s important to acknowledge that health care providers are held to such high expectations that reflection can seem risky, as recent events in the UK illustrate.
As Dr. Wyatt and I were talking, she wondered aloud, “Is reflection safe? If so, under what conditions? If not, under what conditions?”
Of course, no one can eliminate the stress and messiness of practice. Reflection, when critically oriented, is designed to press into the stress and messiness of practice. And not deny it.
Whether you reflect with others, or alone in your thoughts, intentional and systematic reflection is an irreplaceable, powerful tool that invites professionals to imagine other possible practices, roles, and relationships.
If you are interested in reflecting on your language, why not start with your metaphors? I have written a workshop just for you, that shows you how to break down the metaphors you use, understand their cognitive and affective aspects, and evaluate them in use. It’s fast, it’s On demand, and it’s right on health communication partners.com.
This has been 10 minutes to Better Patient Communication. I’m Dr. Anne Marie Liebel. Thanks for listening.