Oncology residents' experiences of decision-making in a clinical learning environment: a phenomenological study

Michael Sanatani (Lead / Corresponding author), Fiona Muir

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Oncology residents routinely engage in ethically complex decision-making discussions with patients, while observing and interacting with their teaching consultant. If clinical competency in oncology decision-making guidance is to be taught deliberately and effectively, it is necessary to understand resident experiences in this context to develop appropriate educational and faculty development initiatives. Four junior and two senior postgraduate oncology residents participated in semi-structured interviews during October and November 2021 which explored their experiences of real-world decision-making scenarios. Van Manen's phenomenology of practice was used in an interpretivist research paradigm. Transcripts were analysed to articulate essential experiential themes, and composite vocative narratives were created. Three essential themes were identified: (1) residents often endorsed different decision-making approaches than supervising consultants, (2) residents experienced inner conflict, and (3) residents struggled to find their own approach to decision-making. Residents experienced being torn between a perceived obligation to defer to consultant directives, and a desire for increasing ownership of decision-making while not feeling empowered to discuss their opinions with the consultants. Residents described their experiences around ethical position awareness during decision-making in a clinical teaching context as challenging, with experiences suggesting moral distress combined with inadequate psychological safety to address ethical conflicts and unresolved questions of decision ownership with supervisors. These results suggest the need for enhanced dialogue and more research to reduce resident distress during oncology decision-making. Future research should be aimed at discovering novel ways in which residents and consultants could interact in a unique clinical learning context including graduated autonomy, a hierarchical gradient, ethical positions, physician values, and sharing of responsibility.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1371-1390
Number of pages20
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number5
Early online date20 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • Decision-making
  • Ethical conflict
  • Decision ownership
  • Moral distress professional identity
  • Psychological safety
  • Resident-consultant conflict


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