Ownership of Patient Care: Medical Students’ Expectations, Experiences, and Evolutions Across the Core Clerkship Curriculum

Michelle E. Kiger*, Holly S. Meyer

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Phenomenon: Ownership of patient care is a key element of professional growth and professional identity formation, but its development among medical students is incompletely understood. Specifically, how attitudes surrounding ownership of patient care develop, what experiences are most influential in shaping them, and how educators can best support this growth are not well known. Therefore, we studied the longitudinal progression of ownership definitions and experiences in medical students across their core clerkship curriculum. Approach: We conducted a series of four longitudinal focus groups with the same cohort of medical students across their core clerkship curriculum. Using workplace learning theory as a sensitizing concept, we conducted semi-structured interviews to explore how definitions, experiences, and influencers of ownership developed and evolved. Results were analyzed inductively using thematic analysis. Findings: Fifteen students participated in four focus groups spanning their core clerkship curriculum. We constructed four themes from responses: (1) students’ definitions of ownership of patient care evolved to include more central roles for themselves and more defined limitations; (2) student conceptions of patient care ownership became more relational and reciprocal over time as they ascribed a more active role to patients; (3) student assessment fostered ownership as an external motivator when it explicitly addressed ownership, but detracted from ownership if it removed students from patient care; and (4) structural and logistical factors impacted students’ ability to display patient care ownership. Insights: Student conceptions of ownership evolved over their core clerkship curriculum to include more patient care responsibility and more meaningful relational connections with patients, including recognizing patients’ agency in this relationship. This progression was contingent on interactions with real patients and students being afforded opportunities to play a meaningful role in their care. Rotation structures and assessment processes are key influencers of care ownership that merit further study, as well as the voice of patients themselves in these relationships.

Original languageEnglish
JournalTeaching and Learning in Medicine
StateAccepted/In press - 2024
Externally publishedYes


  • clerkships
  • medical student education
  • Patient care ownership
  • patient care ownership
  • professional identity formation


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