Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



First Advisor

Teresa J. Carter, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Robin R. Hurst, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Christopher M. Woleben, M.D.


The study explored the learning experiences of first-year resident physicians during the first year of graduate medical education. The experiences of four intern physicians in the first year of residency training at an urban academic health system provided the site for the research. An exploratory case study research design was employed to examine the learning experiences of these new physicians. A qualitative approach was used to analyze data from interviews and ethnographic observations. The findings of this research study provide evidence surrounding how and what these physician trainees learned regarding professionalism during the first year of residency training.

The findings indicate these first-year resident physicians experienced significant learning related to professionalism through incidental learning in the clinical environment, particularly from role models and the hidden curriculum. The interns learned both positive and negative professional behaviors from attending physicians. The findings illustrate the increases and decreases of confidence due to the development of clinical skills, increase in responsibilities, and increase in autonomy experienced by all four participants across the first year of residency training. Additionally, the findings highlight the important role of critical incidents, particularly memorable patient encounters, as potentially transformative learning experiences for these interns. Finally, the findings enumerate the pervasive influence of the hidden curriculum of graduate medical education on what these new physicians learned about professionalism, particularly the unprofessional social norms transmitted through attending physicians and others within the context of clinical learning.

The findings of the research study support the conclusions that a) incidental learning experiences during the first year of residency education directly influenced how and what these new physicians learned regarding professionalism; b) these intern physicians experienced non-transformative learning during the first year of residency, but critical reflection and critical self-reflection after critical incidents did hold the potential to result in learning that was transformative; and c) the ubiquitous nature of the hidden curriculum significantly impacted what these first-year residents learned about professionalism. These conclusions contribute to the literature related to the development of professionalism in the new physician and the power of the hidden curriculum in medical education to influence professional identity development. Implications for medical educators and recommendations for future research are also identified.


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