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CIPPET Study Support: 7. Reflective writing

This guide will help you find resources, understand academic and reflective writing and help you prepare for your coursework and exams

Young woman looking thoughtfulReflection will enable you to consider aspects of your practice in depth. By using a structured approach, you will be expected to describe and critically analyse an incident which is significant to your learning. Reflection is an important stage in effective learning and reflective practice is an integral part of continuing professional development (CPD) for health care professionals. Successful reflection enables self-awareness, personal and professional growth and it is important to develop these skills as a healthcare professional. A reflective account documents the way you have thought about and experienced a particular event or experience.

In all cases reflection is an active process that involves reviewing an experience of practice in order to describe, analyse, evaluate and so inform learning about practice. Reflective skills can include the ability to be:

  • self-aware
  • descriptive
  • analytical
  • constructively evaluative

In a clinical working environment, this process should be continuous or cyclical, i.e. actions continually reviewed in light of most recent developments but may also be sparked by a particular event or experience.

Reflective writing is a way of processing your practice-based experience to produce learning. It has two key features:

  1. It integrates theory and practice. Identify important aspects of your reflections and write these using the appropriate theories and academic context to explain and interpret your reflections. Use your experiences to evaluate the theories - can the theories be adapted or modified to be more helpful for your situation?
  2. It identifies the learning outcomes of your experience. So you might include a plan for next time identifying what you would do differently, your new understandings or values and unexpected things you have learnt about yourself.

You will also have access to resources from your regulator (GPhC, HCPC or NMC) on the role of reflection and revalidation which will help you link reflective practice to your registration.  If you are a member of your professional leadership body (e.g. RPS, RCN, CoP, CSP) they often have resources you can also access to support your development.

Developing your reflective insights

Be prepared to:

  • Stand back from the events and try to be objective
  • Be critical of your own actions
  • Think of alternative explanations of events
  • Make use of evidence from a range of sources e.g. theories
  • Recognise that your own point of view will change with time
  • Discuss with others to deepen your insight and explore a range of perspectives

Reflective questions to ask yourself

  • Why did I respond in this way?
  • What was I thinking and feeling - did this influence me, and why?
  • What was the client thinking and feeling, what is the evidence for this?
  • What else could I have done?
  • What would I do in a similar situation?

Consider the following

  • How does my experience compare to what I have read? Are there any theories that would help explain what happened?
  • What might be the results of doing things differently? What evidence is there to show things might change if done differently?
  • How has the experience changed my understanding?

Keep comparing theory to practice and exploring the relationship between the two

Reflective writing

CIPPET and assessed reflection

Reflective writing will take many forms throughout the CIPPET modules and programmes.  You should refer to the assessment criteria for the piece of coursework to identify the expectations.  Some coursework will be a specific reflective essay or you might need to reflect on a topic/event/experience as a much smaller part of a piece of coursework.  Do not forget in professional exams you may also be required to reflect verbally on your learning, experiences and/or performance.

Approaching reflective writing

It is a common misconception that reflective writing is describing an event, it requires much more depth and largely focusses on the analysis of the event/experience/learning/topic.  There are some tips in the box on the right about the questions you can ask yourself which encourage reflective thinking.  Being about to reflect on your own practice is a key skill as a competent healthcare professional - analysing how you react to situations and the impact they have had on your learning and development are the key aims.  When done well, reflective writing can help develop a better understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, challenge your own assumptions and biases to provide better patient care, deal with you own anxieties, support a learning plan and allow you to understand your own values and beliefs.

Topics for reflective writing

There are too many topics to list here, but almost any healthcare related experience can be used for reflective writing.  Common examples includ:

  • Analysis of experiences in your workplace with a patient and/or another healthcare professional
  • Retrospective analysis of an incident in which you were involved
  • Analysis of a past experience that relates to your current situation studying for this module
  • Analysis of learning you have undertaken related to the module

Using theory and evidence in reflection

Assignments involving reflective thinking often ask you to refer to both relevant theories, evidence and your own experiences, but what does this mean? Academic theories and your professional observations are both evidence that you need to use to support your points, but they are different types of evidence:

Academic theories provide a generalised model or framework to help you understand what might be happening in a situation - the reflective model discussed in this section are examples of theoretical models - they gives you a structure to compare your own experiences to and language to help you explain what is happening

Evidence provides a means to compare your understanding of the situation to published evidence to analyse your real-life experiences.  These might be papers, journals, books, guidelines or good practice recommendations - evidence is something you can reference to critique your experience against.

Your own experiences are what happens in practice; these may be more complex and richer than the evidence or theories, but it can be harder to see what is relevant. By analsying your experiences using a theory (i.e. a reflective model), you can develop some more insightful explanations for what happened. Also, use your own experiences to interrogate and question the evidence - does it fit what happened? If not, why? Does the evidence only explain part of the story? Does the evidence need to be adapted for different situations?

Videos explaining reflection