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05.12.2016 | Eye-Opener | Ausgabe 1/2017 Open Access

Perspectives on Medical Education 1/2017

From problem solving to problem definition: scrutinizing the complex nature of clinical practice

Perspectives on Medical Education > Ausgabe 1/2017
Sayra Cristancho, Lorelei Lingard, Glenn Regehr
Wichtige Hinweise
“Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else.” (Buddha)


In medical education, we have tended to present problems as being singular, stable, and solvable. Problem solving has, therefore, drawn much of medical education researchers’ attention. This focus has been important but it is limited in terms of preparing clinicians to deal with the complexity of the 21st century healthcare system in which they will provide team-based care for patients with complex medical illness. In this paper, we use the Soft Systems Engineering principles to introduce the idea that in complex, team-based situations, problems usually involve divergent views and evolve with multiple solution iterations. As such we need to shift the conversation from (1) problem solving to problem definition, and (2) from a problem definition derived exclusively at the level of the individual to a definition derived at the level of the situation in which the problem is manifested. Embracing such a focus on problem definition will enable us to advocate for novel educational practices that will equip trainees to effectively manage the problems they will encounter in complex, team-based healthcare.
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