How can you reflect?

Find out what works for you

Reflection is personal, and there is no set way in which you should reflect. You will need to experiment to find what works best for you to demonstrate evidence of your reflection. Thinking about ways you learn, and how you process and retain information most effectively, can be helpful. Are you a visual learner who likes to use diagrams to help you understand concepts, or do you work best when you write things down? Reflection can also fit with your own interests; for example, if you enjoy creative writing you could incorporate writing poetry or a prose piece into the way you reflect.

Try out different ways of reflecting to help you find what works you. Most professionals enjoy reflection once they start doing it and find a style that suits them.

Learn how a student keeps a daily reflective diary which they have found extremely beneficial to both their professional and personal life.

Medical schools should support you to develop a toolbox of reflection formats to use. Remember you should reflect on both positive and negative experiences.

When to reflect

Here are some examples of when it might be helpful to reflect:

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when you finish a group project or assignment

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when you get feedback from a teacher or a supervisor on a placement

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when you think about how the different subjects and topics on your course relate to each other

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after a discussion in class around a topic that has had an impact on you or held some meaning

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after an interaction with a patient on a placement

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after you have read an interesting piece of research or an article

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when you finish a block or type of placement e.g. at the end of a stint in a GP practice

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when you’ve seen something on a placement that has made you think or question your ideas or values

Idea icon when you’ve had a lightbulb moment.

Dr Jennifer Kennedy, Honorary Senior Clinical Lecturer, School of Medicine, University of Dundee
Dr Jennifer Kennedy

There are many ways to reflect so don’t feel bound to a ‘one size fits all’ approach to reflection which might not work for you. Reflection needn’t always be written down or only produced as a formal course work requirement either. Some of the most meaningful and useful reflection can happen through discussion with our peers and colleagues or as an internal dialogue with ourselves. What really matters is being a reflective practitioner, able to reflect on all aspects of our work. That means reflecting on the positive experiences too!

James Goody – qualified paramedic, and medical student at Keele University School of Medicine
Doctor explaining

I think ‘hot reflection’, as in reflection on that day, isn’t always that great. It’s fresh in your mind, but it’s also highly emotional, so you’re not always reflecting well. So what I tend to find is write down some key points, and then maybe reflect with a bit of a clear head, quite soon to the event, but not maybe immediately after.

You are processing some of the information that you are thinking about, and worrying about, and by actually writing it down and getting it into some order - I always use Gibbs Reflective Cycle - I just find it works for me. And it brings things to a closure.

Group reflection

Reflection also happens in groups. Clinicians and teams get together to discuss positive and negative events. This type of team reflection can be essential in improving health services for patients. You could think about reflecting together with other students you have been on a placement or worked on a project with, in an informal but confidential setting. Your medical school may provide more formal settings for group reflection.

See how facilitated forums can help healthcare teams to reflect.

Structure your thoughts

Some form of structured approach to reflection is often helpful. In The reflective practitioner guidance , the What? So what? Now what? framework is suggested as being a simple way to structure your reflections.

Circular diagram. The arrows point both ways between each of the three sections. The sections read 'What (thinking)', 'So what (feeling)' and 'Now what (doing)'.
Icon, the text reads "What (thinking)"

Your thoughts at the time of an experience. Explore your thought processes when you take a particular action or decision and how it may have impacted on your actions and feelings. The what is where you record enough narrative about the event to put your reflection in context.

eg. What was I thinking when I took the actions or made the decision that I did.

So what?
Icon, the text reads "So what (feeling)"

Consider the significance of what happened as well as the values and feelings at the time of and prompted by the experience, and why these may influence future learning or actions.

eg. ‘How did I feel at the time of and after the experience, why was it important?’

Now what?
Icon, the text reads "Now what (doing)"

What processes and opportunities can help you to learn from the experience and identify future actions, reflect on those actions, and use these to develop further.

eg. ’What can I learn from or do differently next time’

These examples of reflecting on an experience use the 'What? So what? Now what?'  framework and the Gibbs reflective cycle to structure the reflections.