Critical Thinking

An essential part of a healthcare provider’s daily routine is solving abstract problems with no clear-cut solution. Thus, developing strong critical thinking skills is imperative during your time as a medical student. As a doctor, it is in your favor (and your patient’s) to challenge ideas, assumptions, and possibilities rather than accept them for face value. Zayapragassarazan et al. (2016) performed a conceptual analysis of critical thinking skills in the medical school environment and how different instructional methods can promote (or not) these skills. Below are tips to develop and train your cognitive reasoning and critical thinking skills. 

Like academic learning styles, there is no one-size-fits-all approach in developing critical thinking skills. You will naturally develop your own style, but the most important part is to train your cognitive reasoning daily – in lectures, review sessions, and even exams when they are quite literally put to the test. Below is a rough outline of steps to take when approaching a problem critically. 

Identify the Problem ​
More than just reading the question or request, identification of the problem requires some deeper prying. Ignoring the extra information, what is the crux of the problem? Why is it important and who does it affect? Why do we need a solution? Taking this approach will help contextualize your solution and all factors that may be at play. 

Research the Problem 
Today, information is available at your fingertips, so take advantage of that! You may be flooded with information surrounding the problem, but it might be extraneous or even incorrect. Obtain as much information on your problem as possible from credible and reputable sources.  

Analyze the Problem 
This is the point to identify patterns in your research – is the same point made across multiple reputable sources? Does every source say something different? If sources differ on a topic, it is on you to make a judgment call of what that pattern means and how to proceed. Approach each potential solution from their perspective as well as the opposing perspective to be as unbiased as possible. It is satisfying to find a source that supports your original hypothesis, but read articles that propose the counterargument as well. This helps to develop unbiased analysis of problems. 

The final step of the process, deciding may seem the simplest step of them all. However, this requires deliberation based on your research and objective consideration of all angles. Once you feel you have the most unbiased, supported, productive solution to the problem, make that call and propose your decision. 

Practicing a simple approach like this when addressing problems will help to develop and reinforce critical thinking strategies, especially as you proceed through your medical school education. When you are certified, these skills will continue to play a role in identifying true sources of illness, correct treatments, preventing clinical errors, and overall your confidence in practicing medicine.