By Michael P. McCarthy
The New Year offers a clean slate, a welcome opportunity to try something new. Given the title of the blog, Reflective MedEd, I would like to offer a way of refocusing and reorienting oneself through reflecting on the experiences of the day. As Hedy Wald described in her blog post, reflection enhances a variety of skills that are essential for continuing professional identity formation for medical students, educators, and practitioners alike. The process of the examen serves as a way to reflect by reviewing hour-by-hour the events, circumstances, and experiences of the day…
The examen begins by quieting myself, and then reviewing slowly the events of the day. I start with an objective review, what I did, and a subjective view, how I felt (positively, negatively, happy, sad, joyous, frustrated, etc.) about the day’s events. I recall experiences and feelings, and then identify one thing for which I want to be especially attentive a meeting coming-up; a difficult exam; a family crisis; etc. The context of the examen is a prayerful one that is attentive to sources of meaning and motivation. Cultivating a habit of reflecting on my daily experiences through the examen expresses a desire to become more aware of who I am and who I am becoming, two essential components of formation.
The examen was developed first by St. Ignatius Loyola in sixteenth century as a component of formation for Jesuit priests who in addition worked as educators, chaplains, even physicians. Their work flowed from their sense of meaning in “finding God in all things.” While the work was important, it also held similar challenges to the ones we face today: feelings of fatigue, disconnection, burnout, loss of empathy, etc. The examen functions as a reminder to reconnect with the meaning behind the work we do.