Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2022 Nov 1. doi: 10.1007/s10459-022-10167-x. Online ahead of print.
Some educators have described clinical documentation as "scut". Research in medicine has focused on documentation's communicative value and not its function in learning. With time being an important commodity and electronic health records changing how we document, understanding the learning value of documentation is essential. The purpose of this study was to explore how trainee composing practices shape learning. Qualitative methods employing Rhetorical Genre Theory were used to explore clinical documentation practices among medical trainees. Data collection and analysis occurred in iterative cycles. Data included field notes and field interviews from 110 h of observing junior trainees and senior internal medicine residents participating in patient admission and follow-up visits. Analysis was focused on Paré and Smart's framework for studying documentation as composing. From a composing lens, documentation plays a vital role in learning in clinical settings. Junior trainees were observed to be reliant on using writing to support their thinking around patient care. Before patient encounters, writing helped trainees focus on what was already known and develop a preliminary understanding of the patient's problem(s). After encounters, writing helped trainees synthesize the data and develop an assessment and plan. Before and after the encounter, through writing, trainees also identified knowledge and data collection gaps. Our findings highlight clinical documentation as more than a communication task. Rather, the writing process itself appeared to play a pivotal role in supporting thinking. While some have proposed strategies for reducing trainee involvement, we argue that writing can be time well spent.