Do you have “feedback literacy”? For residency, it’s a must

Brendan Murphy , Senior News Writer

Feedback is instrumental to physician development during residency training. Yet guidance on how to solicit feedback and apply it is often lacking.

Reid Evans, PhD, an assistant professor and education director for graduate medical education at the University of Massachusetts Chan School of Medicine, has worked to instruct both faculty members and residents on the mechanics of an effective feedback relationship. Evans presented on a curriculum he has developed on feedback literacy during the AMA ChangeMedEd® 2023 conference in Chicago.

Get residency-ready with AMA benefits

  • Find your perfect match using full features of FREIDA™, the AMA Residency & Fellowship Database®
  • Distinguish yourself with AMA leadership opportunities

Supporting you today as a medical student. Protecting your future as a physician.

Here are some key tidbits Evans offered that could allow residents to enhance the way they receive and process feedback.

Reid Evans, PhD
Reid Evans, PhD, speaks at the AMA ChangeMedEd 2023 conference.

In working with residents and attending physicians in the graduate medical education setting, Evans has found that both parties can be hesitant to receive and provide feedback. Residents, Evans said, need to be made aware that they are well within their rights to ask for feedback.

As for getting the discussion going, Evans said there’s nothing wrong with keeping it simple.

“Starting the conversation is a basic step, and we try to give residents the confidence to do it,” Evans said. “It can be as simple as saying, ‘Would you mind giving me feedback on the procedure we just did or my patient management plan?’—or whatever it might be that you are working on.”

Knowing what you want to take away from a given interaction or rotation allows for targeted feedback. To do that, communicating your goals to faculty members and attendings can be helpful.

“What facilitates that entire conversation is if the learner comes prepared,” Evans said. “Let’s say you are on the first day of a rotation. Read through the curricular description, look at the curricular goals and relate that to your ultimate goals as a physician.”

Feedback related to your goals should inform the path toward improvement. It also could lead to setting additional or new goals related to self-improvement. From there, it’s time to process and use the feedback provided, Evans said.

“When you get the feedback and you renegotiate those goals, simply pause and say: This is my new goal. What is it that I can do to achieve this particular goal?” Evans said. “What does the time frame look like? What are the resources available to you? And if you aren’t sure what those resources are, how can you seek them? Can you speak with the attending physician? Can you speak with fellow residents? Do you need to do a literature review?”

Subscribe and thrive in residency

Get tips and insider advice from the AMA on navigating and making the most of medical residency—delivered to your inbox.

Illustration of resident looking at a diagnostic image

In the interprofessional care era, opening your mind to feedback from other members of the care team, such as nurses and physician assistants, is important.

Evans said residents can often fall into the trap of seeking validation from a singular source, such as an attending physician, while limiting the value they place on feedback from other sources.

“When you do that, you are often limiting yourself,” Evans said. “Really, you should be taking into consideration feedback from many, many sources, and synthesizing that feedback together, because that paints the entire picture.”

As feedback literacy is gained, Evans also highlighted that an awareness of the fact that not all feedback is created equal, is also an important lesson.

“You can’t take all feedback at face value,” Evans said. “You are in some way analyzing and interpreting and validating that feedback because there may be times that you are not getting valid feedback—if an individual doesn't have the complete picture or they're not familiar with your goals. Then that feedback might not be as valid as it would be if it were from  someone who has had more longitudinal exposure to your performance.”

The AMA Thriving in Residency series has guidance and resources on navigating the fast-paced demands of training, maintaining health and well-being, handling medical student-loan debt, and other essential tips about succeeding in graduate medical training.