Unravelling residents’ and supervisors’ workplace interactions: an intersubjectivity study

Francisco M. Olmos-Vega, Diana H. J. M. Dolmans, Carlos Guzmán-Quintero, Renée E. Stalmeijer, Pim W. Teunissen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Context: Successful engagement between residents and supervisors lies at the core of workplace learning, a process that is not exempt from challenge. Clinical encounters have unique learning potential as they offer opportunities to achieve a shared understanding between the resident and supervisor of how to accomplish a common goal. How residents and supervisors develop such a mutual understanding is an issue that has received limited attention in the literature. We used the ‘intersubjectivity’ concept as a novel conceptual framework to analyse this issue. Methods: We conducted a constructivist grounded theory study in an anaesthesiology department in Bogota, Colombia, using focus groups and field observations. Eleven residents of different training levels and 18 supervisors with varying years of teaching experience participated in the study. Through iterative data analysis, collection and constant comparison, we constructed the final results. Results: We found that residents and supervisors achieved a shared understanding by adapting to one another in the process of providing patient care. Continuous changes in the composition of resident–supervisor dyads exposed them to many procedural variations, to which they responded by engaging in various adaptation patterns that included compliance by residents with supervisors’ directions, negotiation by residents of supervisors’ preferences, and the sharing of decision making. In the process, the resident played an increasingly key role as a member of the supervisory dyad. Additionally, experiencing these adaptation patterns repeatedly resulted in the creation of a working repertoire: an attuned working code used by the members of each supervisory dyad to work together as a team. Conclusions: The development of shared understanding between residents and supervisors entailed experiencing diverse adaptation patterns which resulted in the creation of working repertoires. Seeing supervisory interactions as adaptation processes has essential theoretical and practical implications regarding workplace learning in postgraduate settings. Our findings call for further exploration to understand learning in postgraduate education as a social process.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)725-735
JournalMedical Education
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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