A Cloud With a Silver Lining: Helping Students Learn About Professionalism

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date

Winter 2-2017


Teaching and Learning in Medicine





Inclusive Pages





Professionalism; Word clouds


Problem: Educators face many challenges in teaching professionalism. Despite attempts to define professionalism, it remains abstract for students and often not fully appreciated until they are in clinic. Without a way to make it personally relevant, students will likely be less motivated to learn. Intervention: We used student-generated word clouds to facilitate reflection and discussions, thereby helping students make their perceptions of professionalism more explicit. Group discussion was followed by a 5-minute written reflection. Word clouds created in Semesters 1 and 7 enabled students to compare perceptions at two points in the curriculum. Context: The George Washington University Doctor of Physical Therapy Program is a 3-year, 8-semester, 109-credit postgraduate program that includes 34 weeks of clinical practice. Reflection is foundational to the curriculum, and students reflect on their learning and professional growth each semester. Historically, students were introduced to professionalism in Semester 1 using explicit instructional strategies. Despite the wealth of resources, readings, and discussions, engagement remained challenging. Outcome: Student-generated word clouds created a personally relevant visual from which uniquely designed prompts were created to facilitate discussion. Having students compare word clouds across semesters enabled them to identify what, when, how, and where they learned about professionalism. Word clouds, categorized words, and 5-minute written reflections provided evidence of individual and collective changes in student perceptions. Lessons Learned: Students will engage in rich discussions on professionalism if it is personally relevant. Anonymity can foster discussion on personal characteristics and biases. Visualization of student-generated, narrative data enhanced reflection and discussion. Comparing word clouds from two points in time helped students articulate changes in their perceptions of professionalism. A 5-minute reflection can be a powerful learning tool for students and faculty. Outcomes demonstrated the value of designing interventions grounded in the educational principles.

Peer Reviewed


Open Access


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