Unmasking identity dissonance: exploring medical students’ professional identity formation through mask making

Kimera Joseph, Karlen Bader, Sara Wilson, Melissa Walker, Mark Stephens, Lara Varpio

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-107
Number of pages9
JournalPerspectives on Medical Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


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