Practice organizations will increasingly engage in activities that are the functional equivalents of continuing medical education. The authors maintain that if these activities are properly structured within practice organizations, they can become powerful engines of socialization to enhance physicians' lifelong learning and commitment to medical professionalism. They propose that this promise can be realized if new or reformed practice organizations combine education and service delivery and institutionalize processes of individual and collective reflection. The resulting 'institutions of reflective practice' would be ones of collegial, experiential, reflective lifelong learning concerning the technical and normative aspects of medical work. They would extend recent methods of medical education such as problem-based learning into the practice setting and draw on extant methods used in complex organizations to maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages that practice organizations typically present for adult learning. As such, these institutions would balance the potentially conflicting organizational needs for, on the one hand, (1) self-direction, risk taking, and creativity; (2) specialization; and (3) collegiality; and, on the other hand, (4) organizational structure, (5) coordination of division of labor, and (6) hierarchy. Overall, this institutionalization of reflective practice would enrich practice with education and education with practice, and accomplish the ideals of what the authors call 'responsive medical professionalism.' The medical profession would both contribute and be responsive to social values, and medical work would be valued intrinsically and as central to practitioners' self-identity and as a contribution to the public good.
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