Medical students' experiences and needs from written reflective journal feedback

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Introduction: Reflective ability is an important skill for enhancing professionalism and developing communication skills. To improve reflective ability, medical educators encourage use of written reflective journals, for which feedback is important. It is difficult for educators to anticipate how their feedback will be perceived. Therefore, this study examined students' experiences with educators' written feedback on reflective journals. Methods: A qualitative, immersion/crystallization analysis of 60 written feedback texts to 15 medical students (30 identified by students as meaningful and 30 as less meaningful) and in-depth semi-structured interviews with these students. We did not define ‘meaningful’, to leave room for students' own interpretations. We analysed the feedback to identify what it includes (its components) and analysed the interviews to learn about students' experiences of receiving the feedback and the specific components. Results: Students experienced five components as meaningful: supportive and encouraging statements; legitimisation of their emotions; educators sharing personal-professional experiences; asking questions to enhance reflection; and focusing on the students' main concern. These components enhanced students' willingness to read and learn from the feedback. Three components were experienced as less meaningful: detached, impersonal feedback; negative tone (criticism); and technical issues, for example brevity. These disappointing and hurtful components led students to pay less attention to the feedback or to invest less effort in future written assignments. Conclusions: The present study identified components in written reflective journal feedback texts and the experience and needs of students who received them. It showed the complexity of writing reflective feedback because of the need to support students through it, help them deal with emotions, identify and focus on personal content that matters to them, and provide opportunities to develop and enhance their reflective ability, while being mindful of their emotional state. To help educators in this challenging task, a self-assessment mnemonic (‘FEEDBACK’) for use before sending the initial feedback was developed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)505-517
Number of pages13
JournalMedical Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


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