How to Write a Reflection


Step One: Review your research

Think of your shadowing experiences as the "research" you conducted to decide whether a career in the health professions is right for you. The notes you have taken and the writing exercises you completed before and after observing are the raw materials you can use to create a reflective essay. 

The observational notes and writing exercises are preparation for the reflection, not the reflection itself.

Review your observational notes and writing exercises. You can try the following brainstorming activities to identify a topic for your reflection:

  • Underline or highlight themes that appear throughout your notes (here is an example of a reflection with a thematic topic)
  • Identify and analyze images you encountered while shadowing (here is an example of a reflection with a symbolic topic)
  • Connect your shadowing experiences to a childhood memory or a vision of the future of medicine (here is an example of a reflection with a memory as a topic)
  • Relate your shadowing experiences to a relevant current event or problem facing the health professional field (here is an example of a reflection with a healthcare dilemma as a topic)


Step Two: Find your perspective

Once you have chosen a topic for your reflection, you need to decide on its scope. This video describes the levels of analysis your reflection could address. They include:

  • Particular settings, objects, and individuals
  • Patient-provider interactions and patient outcomes
  • Professional mission and values
  • The healthcare system
  • Social influences on health

Your reflection can transition between levels of analysis, but you will likely want to choose one level as your focal point. 

For example:

  • This reflection focuses on patient-provider interaction but has implications for our understanding of professionalism.
  • This reflection focuses on the healthcare system but also includes an analysis of patient-provider interactions and social influences on health.
  • This reflection links stigma- a social influence on health- to the healthcare system

You can show the reader who you are and what you think- rather than telling them about you at length- by the way you communicate your unique perspective about your shadowing observations.


Step Three: Organize and write

Now that you have amassed your evidence, chosen your topic, and picked a perspective, it's time to write.

If you don't do well with outlining before you write, try writing a draft of your reflection and then creating a reverse outline. 

A reverse outline converts a completed essay draft into outline format. It can help you determine how much space you are dedicating to each level of analysis and whether the points you planned to make are adequately emphasized.


Step Four: Seek feedback and revise

When you've produced a satisfactory essay draft, give your reflection to several different readers to review.

People in health professions fields are ideal readers, as are people who have served on admissions committees. In addition to these readers, give the reflection to readers from different professional and personal backgrounds. Use their feedback to help you see your reflection from a variety of perspectives and inform your revisions.

In the process of revising your reflection, consider how you would talk about its content in a conversation (or in an admissions or job interview). If your reflection will be incorporated into an application for a school or for a job or internship opportunity, make sure it complements the evidence provided in your other application materials.