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Practical Tips for Building Psychological Safety for Learners

December 22, 2021

When I was starting my clinical clerkships in medical school, a medical student from the year ahead of me told me, “This year, you’ll have to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable – because, as soon as you feel comfortable in a specific setting, it’s time to move on to the next rotation.”

This is something that has stayed with me, and I have repeated this to many students, in the hope that it will help to normalize their feelings of insecurity and inadequacy, and that will provide some sense of psychological safety for the learners.

This week in Pediatrics, as part of our regular Feature by the Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics (COMSEP), we are early releasing an article entitled, “Bridging the Gap Between Educator and Learner: The Role of Psychological Safety in Medical Education,” by Drs. Adelaide McClintock, Sara Kim, and Esther Chung from the University of Washington, which addresses this very issue of psychological safety for learners (10.1542/peds.2021-055028).

The authors make the point that there is often a tension between feedback and evaluation – and students may feel that they can’t ask questions because they might be evaluated poorly on their fund of knowledge.

For those readers who, even occasionally, work with learners at any stage, this article will give you specific tips and examples for how to set expectations (both what you expect from the learner and what the learner expects from you), demonstrate humility and a willingness to learn together, provide opportunities for autonomy, and build knowledge instead of highlighting knowledge gaps.

I learned several tips from reading this article – and you will as well. By building psychological safety for these learners, you will create an even better learning environment for the entire team!

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