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Professional identities

In their journey towards becoming healthcare professionals, learners develop a range of beliefs and attitudes about the professions for which they are preparing themselves. They develop an understanding about the boundaries of their profession, and the ways in which they may interact with others as part of an interprofessional healthcare team. These sets of beliefs, attitudes and understanding about their roles, within the context of work, generally refer to their ‘professional identity’. IPE is an excellent arena for identity formation to be actively and proactively explored and shaped, if done well.

Professional Identity Formation

  • Can be framed within the context of social identity
  • Is a systematic way of evaluating, identifying and organising the perception of self
  • Concerns group interactions in the workplace and relates to how people compare and differentiate themselves from other professional groups
  • Helps learners to gain a realistic view of the profession
  • Consists of exploring the available alternatives and committing to some choices and goals; learners are seen as active participants in the formation of their professional identity.


Social identity theory suggests that the attitudes and behaviours of members of one professional healthcare group towards another are governed by the strength and relevance of the members’ social identity (Tajfel and Turner, 2001).

Challenges Associated with Professional Identity Formation

  • When confronted by contradictory and ambiguous situations and experiences, individuals engage in self-reflection and questioning of the personal view; identity is reshaped as a result.
  • Professional identity is constructed through discourse between individuals, and identities are continually being constructed and altered (Bleakley, 2006).
  • Power processes in team-based work are processes of meaning and identity formation (Bleakley, 2006). These induce the team members to consent to dominant organisational views even if these pose potential disadvantages.
  • A clear understanding of one’s professional identity, likely role within a team and the ideas about related health professionals are tested and developed.
  • The perceptions of one’s own professional identity and others’ assumptions about the professional identities of other groups may not align.



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