Learning to drive: Resident physicians' perceptions of how attending physicians promote and undermine autonomy

Cameron Crockett, Charuta Joshi, Marcy Rosenbaum, Manish Suneja

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Providing appropriate levels of autonomy to resident physicians is an important facet of graduate medical education, allowing learners to progress toward the ultimate goal of independent practice. While studies have identified the importance of autonomy to the development of resident physicians, less is known about resident perspectives on their "lived experiences" with autonomy and ways in which clinical educators either promote or undermine it. The current study aims to provide an empirically based practical framework based on resident perspectives through which supervising physicians can attempt to more adequately foster resident physician autonomy. Methods: Residents completed open ended surveys followed by facilitated group discussions of their perspectives on autonomy. Qualitative thematic analysis identified key themes in resident definitions of autonomy and how clinical educators either promote or undermine resident autonomy during supervision. Fifty-nine resident physicians representing six different specialties from two institutions participated. Results: Learners felt that autonomy was critical to their development as independent physicians. Leading the approach to care, a sense of ownership for patients, and receiving appropriate levels of supervision were identified as key components of autonomy. Attending physicians who promoted this active involvement with patient care were felt to have a strong positive influence on resident autonomy. Autonomy was undermined when decisions were micromanaged and resident input in decision-making process was minimized. Conclusions: Fostering autonomy is a critical aspect of medical education. Allowing residents to take the lead in the delivery of patient care while supporting them as important members of the health care team can help to promote resident autonomy in the clinical setting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number293
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 31 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • Autonomy
  • Clinical supervision
  • Graduate medical education
  • Resident perceptions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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