Reflection: a critical proficiency essential to the effective development of a high competence in communication

Cindy L Adams, Debra Nestel, Peter Wolf
Journal of Veterinary Medical Education 2006, 33 (1): 58-64
Reflection, or the ability to step back from an experience and consider it critically, in an analytical, non-subjective manner, is an essential aspect of problem solving and decision making, and also of effective communication with clients and colleagues. Reflective practice has been described as the essence of professionalism and is therefore a core professional skill; rarely, however, has it been explicitly taught in veterinary curricula, and it has only a recent history in undergraduate human medical curricula. We describe here two preliminary case studies, one in a veterinary medical education context and the other within a human medical education framework, as examples of approaches to assessing a student's ability for ''reflection.'' The case studies also illustrate some of the key principles. Both of the case studies described had as their end goal the enhancement of communication skills through critical reflection. At Monash University, Australia, the majority of students were assessed as being at a level of ''reflection in development.'' The students in the Ontario Veterinary College case study showed moderately good use of self-awareness and critical reflection as a basis for modifying and integrating communication skills into practice. While both preliminary case studies point to the fact that students recognize the importance of communication and value the opportunity to practice it, few students in either case study identified the importance of reflection for lifelong learning and professional competence. Opportunities to complete critical reflection exercises in other parts of curricula and outside of communication would likely reinforce its importance as a generic skill. Ongoing scholarly approaches to teaching, learning, and evaluating reflection and self-awareness are needed.

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