Purpose: Professional identity formation is an on-going, integrative process underlying trainees’ experiences of medical education. Since each medical student’s professional identity formation process is an individual, internal, and often times emotionally charged unconscious experience, it can be difficult for educators to understand each student’s unique experience. We investigate if mask making can provide learners and educators the opportunity to explore medical students’ professional identity formation experiences. Methods: In 2014 and 2015, 30 third year medical students created masks, with a brief accompanying written narrative, to creatively express their medical education experiences. Using a paradigmatic case selection approach, four masks were analyzed using techniques from visual rhetoric and the Listening Guide. Results: The research team clearly detected identity dissonance in each case. Each case provided insights into the unique personal experiences of the dissonance process for each trainee at a particular point in their medical school training. Conclusions: We propose that mask making accompanied by a brief narrative reflection can help educators identify students experiencing identity dissonance, and explore each student’s unique experience of that dissonance. The process of making these artistic expressions may also provide a form of intervention that can enable educators to help students navigate professional identity formation and identity dissonance experiences.
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