Deliberate reflection and clinical reasoning: Founding ideas and empirical findings

Sílvia Mamede*, Henk G. Schmidt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)


Context: The idea that reflection improves reasoning and learning, since long present in other fields, emerged in the 90s in the medical education literature. Since then, the number of publications on reflection as a means to improve diagnostic learning and clinical problem-solving has increased steeply. Recently, concerns with diagnostic errors have raised further interest in reflection. Several approaches based on reflection have been proposed to reduce clinicians' errors during diagnostic reasoning. What reflection entails varies substantially, and most approaches still require empirical examination. Purpose: The present essay aims to help clarify the role of deliberate reflection in diagnostic reasoning. Deliberate reflection is an approach whose effects on diagnostic reasoning and learning have been empirically studied over the past 15 years. The philosophical roots of the approach will be briefly examined, and the theory and practice of deliberate reflection, particularly its effectiveness, will be reviewed. Lessons learned and unresolved issues will be discussed. Discussion: The deliberate reflection approach originated from a conceptualization of the nature of reflection practice in medicine informed by Dewey's and Schön's work. The approach guides physicians through systematically reviewing the grounds of their initial diagnosis and considering alternatives. Experimental evidence has supported the effectiveness of deliberate reflection in increasing physicians' diagnostic performance, particularly in nonstraightforward diagnostic tasks. Deliberate reflection has also proved helpful to improve students' diagnostic learning and to facilitate learning of new information. The mechanisms behind the effects of deliberate reflection remain unclear. Tentative explanations focus on the activation/reorganisation of prior knowledge induced by deliberate reflection. Its usefulness depends therefore on the difficulty of the problem relative to the clinician's knowledge. Further research should examine variations in instructions on how to reflect upon a case, the value of further guidance while learning from deliberate reflection, and its benefits in real practice.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-85
Number of pages10
JournalMedical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work is supported by Guangzhou Science and Technology Plan with no.202102021210.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Medical Education published by Association for the Study of Medical Education and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

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