Who are you and who do you want to be? Key considerations in developing professional identities in medicine

Charlotte E Rees and Lynn V Monrouxe
Med J Aust 2018; 209 (5): . || doi: 10.5694/mja18.00118
Published online: 3 September 2018

Who we are, our identities are essential. Identities give our lives meaning, guiding behaviour. Professional identities are of utmost importance in medicine. They are the cornerstone of professionalism, providing us with ethical frameworks within which we work.1 For example, having a strong professional identity as a doctor enables you to consider your values and how they relate to those prescribed (eg, professionalism codes of conduct), and to patients’ and colleagues’ values.2 Furthermore, possessing a strong professional identity can foster confidence (both in yourself, and others in you), cultivate collaborative leadership styles and develop wellbeing.3 Conversely, having strong professional identities can lead to negative outcomes — including negative workplace behaviour, poor teamwork, challenges to shared decision making with patients, and hierarchical leadership styles — resulting in patient safety threats.4 For better or worse, professional identities matter: for you, your patients and your colleagues. In this article, we describe what we mean by identities; how different identities play out during interactions; how they are formed, alongside the barriers and threats to development; and the consequences of developing (or not) professional identities. We also discuss how we may support professional identity formation.

  • 1 Monash Centre for Scholarship in Health Education (MCSHE), Monash University, Melbourne, VIC
  • 2 Chang Gung Medical Education Research Centre (CG-MERC), Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Linkou, Taoyuan City, Taiwan


Competing interests:

No relevant disclosures.

  • 1. Monrouxe LV. Theoretical insights into the nature and nurture of professional identities. In: Cruess RL, Cruess SR, Steinert Y, editors. Teaching medical professionalism: supporting the development of a professional identity; 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016: pp 37-53.
  • 2. Monrouxe LV, Rees CE. Healthcare professionalism: improving practice through reflections on workplace dilemmas. Oxford: Wiley–Blackwell, 2017.
  • 3. Reicher S, Haslam SA, Hopkins N. Social identity and the dynamics of leadership: leaders and followers as collaborative agents in the transformation of social reality. Leadersh Q 2005; 16: 547-568.
  • 4. Stevens S. Surgeons’ professional identity and patient safety: time for change. Soc Sci Med 2013; 77: 9-10.
  • 5. Tajfel H, Turner JC. The social identity theory of intergroup behavior. In: Jost JT, Sidanius J, editors. Political psychology: key readings. Key readings in social psychology. New York, NY: Psychology Press, 2004: pp 276-293.
  • 6. Tsouroufli M, Rees CE, Monrouxe LV, Sundaram V. Gender, identities and intersectionality in medical education research. Med Educ 2011; 45: 213-216.
  • 7. Roccas S, Brewer MB. Social identity complexity. Pers Soc Psychol Rev 2002; 6: 88-106.
  • 8. Goffman E. The presentation of self in everyday life. London: Penguin, 1990.
  • 9. Johnson M. Knowing through the body. Philos Psychol 1991; 4: 3-18.
  • 10. Hill E, Vaughn S. The only girl in the room: how paradigmatic trajectories deter students from surgical careers. Med Educ 2013; 47: 547-556.
  • 11. Frost HD, Regehr G. “I am a doctor”: negotiating the discourses of standardization and diversity in professional identity construction. Acad Med 2013; 88: 1570-1577.
  • 12. Phillips SP, Dalgarno N. Professionalism, professionalization, expertise and compassion: a qualitative study of medical residents. BMC Med Educ 2017; 17: 21.
  • 13. Veazey Brooks J, Bosk CL. Remaking surgical socialization: work hour restrictions, rites of passage, and occupational identity. Soc Sci Med 2012; 75: 1625-1632.
  • 14. Monrouxe LV, Bullock A, Tseng HM, Wells SE. Association of professional identity, gender, team understanding, anxiety and workplace learning alignment with burnout in junior doctors: a longitudinal cohort study. BMJ Open 2017; 7: e017942.
  • 15. Madsen W, McAllister M, Godden J, et al. Nursing’s orphans: how the system of nursing education in Australia is undermining professional identity. Contemp Nurse 2009; 32: 9-18.
  • 16. Lingard L, Garwood K, Schryer CF, Spafford MM. A certain art of uncertainty: case presentation and the development of professional identity. Soc Sci Med 2003; 56: 603-616.
  • 17. de Lasson L, Just E, Stegeager N, Malling B. Professional identity formation in the transition from medical school to working life: a qualitative study of group-coaching courses for junior doctors. BMC Med Educ 2016; 16: 165.
  • 18. van Lankveld T, Schoonenboom J, Kusurkar RA, et al. Integrating the teaching role into one’s identity: a qualitative study of beginning undergraduate medical teachers. Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract 2017; 22: 601-622.
  • 19. Carraccio C, Burke AE. Beyond competencies and milestones: adding meaning through context. J Grad Med Educ 2010; 2: 419-422.


remove_circle_outline Delete Author
add_circle_outline Add Author

Do you have any competing interests to declare? *

I/we agree to assign copyright to the Medical Journal of Australia and agree to the Conditions of publication *
I/we agree to the Terms of use of the Medical Journal of Australia *
Email me when people comment on this article

Online responses are no longer available. Please refer to our instructions for authors page for more information.