Clinical problem-based medical education: A social identity perspective on learning.




Medical education programs are responsible for educating medical students to meet the demands of a complex and fast-changing healthcare system, that requires competent, reflective, robust, and engaged students who can collaborate in interdisciplinary settings. In this article, we examine and discuss how social identities affect medical students’ learning approaches regarding how, what, and why they learn in clinical problem-based medical education. We conducted an ethnographic study at Aalborg University Hospital, involving 7 medical students for 240 hours of participant observation and 8 hours of semi-structured interviews. During the analysis, we found that medical students’ social identities as well as the clinical problem-based practice were strongly associated with how, what, and why they learn. We highlight that there is a very fine balance to be found between the assumed and assigned social identities in clinical problem-based medical education if a learning outcome of high quality is to be ensured.


Nicolaj Johansson, Institut for Medicin og Sundhedsteknologi, Aalborg Universitet

Nicolaj Johansson, PhD student at the Centre for Health Science Education and Problem-Based Learning at Aalborg University. He is doing research in Problem-based learning and the effect it has on professional identity development in medical education. He teaches courses on problem-based learning for students.

Susanne Nøhr, Klinisk Institut, Aalborg Universitet og Enheden for Postgraduat Uddannelse, Aalborg Universitetshospital.

Susanne B. Nøhr, PhD, MLP, Associate Professor in Medical Education, Department of Clinical Medicine, Aalborg University. She is a leader of PGME (postgraduate medical education) at Aalborg University Hospital and Educational Region North, Denmark, and a medical specialist in gynecology & obstetrics. Her research focus on both individual and organizational perspectives of medical education - and on medical expert topics.

Tine Lass Klitgaard, Klinisk Institut, Aalborg Universitet og Enheden for Postgraduat Uddannelse, Aalborg Universitetshospital.

Tine Lass Klitgaard, PhD student, Department of Clinical Medicine, Aalborg University, Department of Post Graduate Medical Education, Aalborg University Hospital, Denmark. She has a master in Anthropology. She is doing an ethnographic research in postgraduate medical education on the first months as newly graduated doctors.

Diana Stentoft , Dansk Blindesamfund og Institut for Medicin og Sundhedsteknologi, Aalborg Universitet

Diana Stentoft, PhD and Associate Professor. She is the former head of Centre for Health Science Education and Problem-Based Learning at Aalborg University. She teaches courses on problem-based learning for students and facilitates staff development. Her research is focused on health science education and implementations of PBL into diverse curricula.

Henrik Vardinghus-Nielsen, Institut for Medicin og Sundhedsteknologi, Aalborg Universitet

Henrik Vardinghus-Nielsen, PhD and Associate Professor in Public Health, The department of Health Science and Technology at the Faculty of Medicine, Aalborg University. He is part of the research teams in the research projects ‘Our healthy Community’ and ‘Tingbjerg Changing Diabetes’. His research interests is in sociology of health, intervention science, individual and organizational learning, public health and inequality in health.


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Johansson, N., Nøhr, S., Klitgaard, T. L., Stentoft , D., & Vardinghus-Nielsen, H. (2022). Clinical problem-based medical education: A social identity perspective on learning. Dansk Universitetspædagogisk Tidsskrift, 17(33).



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