This study moves away from attempting to create universal definitions of critical thinking in order to explore the tensions that surround different, converging, and competing beliefs about what critical thinking means.In doing so, we map out conceptions of critical thinking across four health professions along with the beliefs about professional practice that underpin those conceptions.
The purposive sample includes four educators from each of four diverse health professional programs ( = 16 in total): medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and social work.
All participants self-identified as being actively involved in teaching in their professional program and all were formally affiliated with either the University of Alberta (Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy) or the University of Calgary (Social Work).
While each conception had distinct features, the particular conceptions of critical thinking espoused by individual participants were not stable within or between interviews.
Multiple conceptions of critical thinking likely offer educators the ability to express diverse beliefs about what ‘good thinking’ means in variable contexts.
Moreover, the variability observed might suggest that multiplicity has value that the quest for universal definitions has failed to capture.
In this study, we sought to map the multiple conceptions of critical thinking in circulation in health professional education to understand the relationships and tensions between them.The senior author was trained in cognitive psychology, and contributed to the questioning of results and discussion required to ensure this reflexivity.The first author’s dissertation supervisor also provided support in this way by questioning assumptions made during the initial stages of this work.With the historical focus on developing broad definitions of critical thinking and delineating its component skills and dispositions, little has been done either to document the diverse conceptions of this term in circulation amongst active HPE practitioners or, perhaps more importantly, to illuminate the beliefs about what constitutes ‘good thinking’ that lie behind them and the relationships between them.Perhaps clarity in our understanding of critical thinking lies in the flexibility with which it is conceptualized.We used an inductive, qualitative approach to explore conceptions of critical thinking with educators from four health professions: medicine, nursing, pharmacy, and social work.Four participants from each profession participated in two individual in-depth semi-structured interviews, the latter of which induced reflection on a visual depiction of results generated from the first set of interviews.Data collection and early analyses were carried out as part of her dissertation in Educational Policy Studies.As a result of her background in critical theory, there was a need for reflexivity focused on limiting predisposition toward participant interpretations of critical thinking that aligned with critical theory.This is problematic in health professional education (HPE) because professional programs are mandated to educate practitioners who have a defined knowledge base and skill set.When curriculum designers, educators, researchers, or policy-makers all agree that we should teach future professionals to ‘think critically’, resting on the assumption that they also agree on what that means, they may find themselves working at cross-purposes.