‘Just pretending’: Narratives of professional identity transitions in internal medicine

Joanne Kerins (Lead / Corresponding author), Samantha E. Smith, Victoria R. Tallentire

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction: Health professional identity transitions involve a dynamic period of liminality prompting a time of considerable uncertainty and self-doubt. For postgraduate trainees in the United Kingdom, the transition to medical registrar can be a significant deterrent to recruitment and retention. Narrative analysis offers insight into identity work during transitions with potential to inform strategies for developing professional identities. This study aimed to use narrative analysis to explore trainees' experiences and their sense of agency during the liminal phase of this transition. 

Methods: Following ethical approval, internal medicine (IM) trainees in their second year of IM training were interviewed. Transcripts were audio recorded, transcribed verbatim and analysed to identify narratives describing liminality during the transition to the role of medical registrar, including examples of rejecting and claiming identity grants. Narrative analysis, as described by Riessman and influenced by James Gee's units of discourse, was undertaken, with an agentive lens applied to the data. 

Results: Between January 2021 and February 2022, 19 IM trainees were interviewed. Given the in-depth analysis, four narratives were purposively selected to present, including trainees rejecting and claiming the medical registrar role. Trainees tended to describe negative experiences, but those with a higher sense of agency demonstrated positive reflection and identity construction through narrative. There was often identity dissonance between how trainees defined their stage in the transition to medical registrar and how their narrative illustrated their identity work. 

Conclusion: This study exemplifies narrative analysis' linguistic and agentive lenses in exploring the experience of the liminal identity transitional period. The findings reflect the identity dissonance experienced by trainees during this time and sheds light on their sense of agency throughout. It heralds a need to acknowledge the significant liminality experienced during transitions throughout medical training and to empower a sense of agency to support identity work.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)627-636
Number of pages10
JournalMedical Education
Issue number7
Early online date15 Nov 2022
Publication statusPublished - 19 Jun 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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