Giving Students Feedback

Excerpted from Field Guide for the Clinical Preceptor in Ob/Gyn (Marcus, 2007)

One of the most important teaching behaviors in clinical education is to give medical students feedback on their performance. Though students are encouraged to seek feedback, many feel awkward asking for comments. It is important to set some time aside for these discussions. Feedback is frequently given on the run, moments before, between and after seeing a patient. Setting aside specific times during the day, or over a meal can be useful.

When giving positive or negative feedback, keep the following points in mind:

Timing Is Crucial:

In general, feedback should be given as soon after the event as possible. When this strategy is not possible, try to set aside time when you can discuss it. Avoid feedback on the run. This is often misleading and can lead to misunderstandings. If the feedback is particularly critical or sensitive, it is often best to wait for an appropriate time when the issue(s) can be discussed with some clarity, using specific examples of observed behaviors in a private setting. Give the student time to react to your comments, before asking for their suggestions for improvement.

Share Perceptions:

Once you have identified a weakness, ask for the student’s impression of how they think things are going in that area. This encourages the student to become insightful about his/her performance. Beginning with the student’s self-assessment might help you gage their performance more accurately.

Get Cooperation:

Create an opportunity for mutual problem-solving by asking the student what would help him or her to do better. This places the responsibilities of performance behaviors on the student and helps them remain objective in his/her assessments.

Be Specific:

Always try to relate the feedback to a specific example or observation. Help the student understand why you are perceiving him/her in a given way. It is important when giving this feedback to not confuse the behavior with the person. Personalized feedback is unpleasant and rarely fair to anyone.

Sample Preceptor Comments from Neurology: