Do You Critically Reflect? Maybe You Should . . .

It takes effort to be the best you. This is why you make New Year's resolutions. You’re also a human, which is why most resolutions are long forgotten by February. I propose that you begin a practice of critical reflection and make it a daily event. Just like other critical things in my day, I’ve set a daily alarm to remind me.

Backing up for a second, why do I think you should start a daily practice of critical reflection?

The short answer—critical reflection is the pathway to becoming a purpose-driven lifelong learner.

For a longer answer (but still brief), I recommend: “The Making of Expert Clinicians: Reflective Practice” and “The Role of Reflection in Single and Double Loop Learning.”

These two articles discuss how critical reflection uniquely enables individuals to go beyond examining which actions caused a result. The critical part of critical reflection is that it enables examination of our mental models that caused the actions that, in turn, caused the end result. As adults, it is the reshaping of our mental models that ultimately makes a different result possible. In other words, I often say, “I’m not going to do X anymore. It is an unhealthy choice.” Next, I should say, “Good luck, Justin,” because if I don’t consider why I choose to do X, those same environmental cues will continue to reliably prompt that same response.

So what is my 5-question approach at 5 p.m. to critical reflection?

  1. Why did I respond that way?
  2. How did I feel at the time?
  3. How did this contrast with my values?
  4. How could I do it differently next time?
  5. What are my next steps?

And for the extroverts out there, I recommend: “Encouraging Reflection and Change in Clinical Practice: Evolution of a Tool.” It has ready-to-use appendices for group reflections. So, whether you prefer to fly solo or improve as a team, critical reflection is a tool that you should be using to be a purpose-driven lifelong learner.

For those who always did the extra credit, take a few minutes to read or re-read my previous blog post on deliberate practice and ponder the potential synergism of these two practices.

As always, please comment below to share your insights, ask your questions, and let me know what I should write about next. Thanks in advance.


Justin Kreuter, M.D.

Justin Kreuter, M.D., is a clinical pathologist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. His practice consists of both general and subspecialty aspects of clinical pathology. At Federal Medical Center-Rochester, Dr. Kreuter runs the general laboratory that supports a local in-patient population and does a large amount of reference work. At Mayo Clinic, Dr. Kreuter's time is split between the transfusion medicine service and transplant laboratory. In addition to clinical activities, his academic interests include several aspects of medical education, including teaching clinical judgment, frameworks for feedback, and reflection in medical practice.