'Part of the team': professional identity and social exclusivity in medical students
OBJECTIVES Medical students must develop not only their professional identity but also inclusive social attitudes for effective medical practice in the future. This study explores the elements that contribute to medical students’ sense of professional identity and investigates the concept of social exclusivity and how this might relate to students’ development of their identity as medical professionals. METHODS The study is based on qualitative data gathered in telephone interviews with 13 medical students enrolled in Years 1 or 3 at an undergraduate medical school at a university in Australia. The questions were open-ended and asked students about their experiences in medical school, sense of identity and social connections. RESULTS Two main components contributed to a strong sense of professional identity in medical students: professional inclusivity and social exclusivity. Students experienced professional inclusivity when they attended clinical placements and when they were treated as future medical professionals by lecturers, doctors and patients. Social exclusivity was demonstrated by participants’ perceptions of themselves as socially separate from nonmedical students and isolated from students in other disciplines. Students described a sense of peer unity and a shared sense of identity as medical students within the medical school. CONCLUSIONS It is important to understand how students develop their sense of identity as medical professionals and the ways in which medical education and clinical placements can influence this professional identity. Although this study noted a very strong sense of social exclusivity in its findings, there were also high levels of intra-discipline inclusivity. These results suggest that there is a reciprocal and reinforcing relationship between student experiences of professional inclusivity and social exclusivity that creates a defined sense of professional identity.