In addition to softening the judgmental overtones often associated with feedback, the appraisal can be more nuanced and personalized. Of course, there will always be an element of subjective judgment, but acknowledging when that occurs can help divorce it from becoming a matter of opinion that a learner may not necessarily take seriously.
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Explore This IssueJuly 2017
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3. Feedback Has to Be Signposted
Because feedback is so critical to medical education, you would be surprised how often you have received it and haven’t even realized it. Studies have shown that learners tend to underestimate the amount of feedback they receive, especially when it is not given in a timely manner.1,2 In order to get credit for giving and receiving feedback, educators really should declare that they are giving feedback. For example, with medical students, I often start with, “I’m going to provide some feedback here,” and end with, “What other feedback would you like?” It may come off as a little forward, but I don’t see much virtue in subtlety.
4. Feedback Must Be Valuable
When it comes to feedback, less can be more. A few impactful points are more useful than long discussions. Vague, if standard, compliments, such as, “You really did a good job,” should be avoided. After all, what does “a good job” mean, and why does it matter if a learner did a good job? The value of feedback is also dependent on the rapport between the learner and the teacher. If feedback is not geared toward and customized for the situation and the learner, then there really is no underlying communication of the message.
Feedback is a form of formative evaluation, a way of sculpting ourselves in small but meaningful ways so that we can get to our personal best.
5. Feedback Is a Two-Way Street
One of the ways to ensure authenticity is to level the playing field. A heavy-handed approach to giving feedback is unlikely to have an intended effect. Instead, honesty and frankness have to be emphasized, which necessarily means that we have to suspend the hierarchies that are endemic to medical education. This is obviously much easier said than done. I recommend that after each feedback session, the evaluator ask, “What questions do you have for me?” Or better yet, “What feedback can you provide for me?”
6. Feedback Requires Constant & Disciplined Practice
I’m not sure anyone can become perfect at giving or receiving feedback. I think the challenge of feedback is that it has to be intimately personalized. There’s no one-size-fits-all formula. It has to be individualized for each situation and person. Many learners are incredibly resistant to receiving feedback, which underscores the need to be consistent and fair in giving feedback. In fact, feedback on feedback needs to be periodically given, whether by learners or by colleagues.