What is reflective writing, and how can it benefit health workers?

What is reflective writing, and how can it benefit health workers?

Reflective writing allows healthcare workers to document the way that they are feeling and consider where their thoughts are taking them. As it gives you a chance to be alone with your thoughts, this type of journaling is considered a helpful way of managing the build-up of stress that can occur in a medical setting. All levels of staff, wherever they work and whatever their educational background, benefit from thinking about the experiences they have had during the day. Without sitting down to express these thoughts in writing, it’s easy to become overwhelmed by a single event, or multiple events.

Is reflective writing like essay writing?

Anyone who has qualified to work in healthcare is used to completing essays and assignments, but reflective writing is very different from standard academic tasks. Although there are various models that you can adopt, the central ideas tend to remain the same. Primarily, the account will be made up of your memories as you contemplate your past experiences. It will explore what happened in a particular situation and take an analytical approach to understanding why these events occurred. Reflective accounts can use academic language if you prefer and even incorporate theoretical ideas, if that can improve your future performance.

In a more general way, a reflective piece of writing will be a chance for you to study your strengths and weaknesses, taking into account what you feel nervous about and where you are more confident. As you’ll be addressing your emotions in a very personal and subjective way, reflective accounts tend to work best when the writer uses language that includes ‘we decided’ or ‘I felt’. Although there is an element of critical examination – of your colleagues, an incident, or yourself – this should be done constructively.

Finally, to back up your findings and keep a clear record, it’s important to include evidence. This could be in the form of what was done or what was said. From here, you can move on to describe what caused the events you mention and what effect was noticed.

How to get started

A great place to begin is by spending five or 10 minutes each day jotting down your thoughts. You can either handwrite your notes, type them out, or use a voice memo to speak your feelings – whatever you are comfortable with. Next, as the first few sentences tend to be the hardest, use a series of questions to prompt yourself. Maybe ask what you have done well, what was challenging, or what you are grateful for. Alternatively, look at one part of the day that stands out. How were you feeling when your shift began? What about during your break? Lastly, it can help to restrict your writing time. Try setting a timer so that the task doesn’t span out over hours.

How can reflective writing help you?

Reflective writing can help you come to terms with the day’s events and give you a sense of being in control. Looking at things head-on is never easy, but addressing your emotions and making sense of them means that they are less likely to play on your mind. Once the work is complete, you have a choice about how you’ll proceed. Do you want to let someone else read it so that you can see the event from a different perspective or feel validated? Would you prefer to keep it as a record for yourself? Or do you want to delete it now that you’ve got it out of your system? Making these decisions can feel empowering and gives you a sense of control, but there are many other advantages to reflective writing.  

Supports lifelong learning

In every area of healthcare, continuous learning is valued. It keeps us informed of new developments and ensures that our skills are up to date. Reflective writing supports learning by allowing us to pause, arrange our thoughts, and create meaning from what we’ve experienced. This learning process also influences our future problem solving, including how we frame an issue and what action we take. It may even inspire you to enroll on a program that opens up more opportunities in medicine. Baylor University has a range of programs that can set you up for a career in nursing, or ready you for one of the numerous other positions in healthcare. Whether you want to learn a new specialty or train for a leadership role, Baylor’s online courses offer you a flexible way to qualify.

Makes you a better caregiver

Healthcare workers often lead busy lives and it’s tempting to see reflective writing as a distraction from patient care. In reality, the opposite can be true. Studying your experiences can enhance your professional development and eventually improve the quality of care you provide. An example could be a reflective account that looks into the underlying reasons for a diagnostic error. Engaging with the reasons why you or your team made a mistake can help you avoid the same problem in future and improve your performance.

Sharpens your critical thinking

Using self-reflection, healthcare workers can step back from their medical knowledge and develop their skills in critical thinking. Learning through thinking, as well as academic studies, makes it easier to connect educational experiences – those you had in college and those you had in a clinical setting. In this way, you can identify what has helped you to learn specific skills or get to grips with a concept. Sometimes, progress will be made through completing an activity. Other times, you’ll learn more by speaking to colleagues.

Healthcare workers can use reflective writing to make sense of their professional experiences, both negative and positive. As it gives people a chance to identify what they are doing well and where they are struggling, it can be an aid to personal growth. Reflective writers experience life in a medical setting, and then describe it and make conclusions about how to do better in future. In this way, the practice supports a continuous learning process that all healthcare workers can benefit from. 

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