Using Trainee Failures to Enhance Learning: A Qualitative Study of Pediatric Hospitalists on Allowing Failure

Published:November 24, 2022DOI:



      Attendings allow trainee failure when perceived educational benefits outweigh potential patient harm. This strategy has not been explored in pediatrics, where it may be shaped by unique factors. Our objectives were to understand if, when, and how pediatric hospitalists allow trainees to fail during clinical encounters.


      Using constructivist grounded theory, we conducted semistructured interviews with 21 pediatric hospitalists from a children's hospital in the United States. Iterative, constant comparative analysis took place concurrent with data collection. During regular team meetings, we refined and grouped codes into larger themes.


      Nineteen of the 21 participants shared that they intentionally allowed failure as a teaching strategy, acknowledging this strategy's emotional power and weighing the educational benefits against harms to current and future patients, caregivers, and trainees. Participants described a multistep process for allowing failure: 1) initiate an orientation to signal that they prioritize a psychologically safe learning environment; 2) consider factors which influence their decision to allow failure; and 3) debrief with trainees. However, participants did not explicitly alert trainees to this teaching strategy. They also avoided using the word “failure” during debriefs to protect trainees from psychological harm.


      Most pediatric hospitalists in this study allowed failure for educational purposes. However, they did so cautiously, weighing the educational value of the failure against the safety of both current and future patients, the relationship with the caregivers, and the trainees’ well-being. Future research should involve trainees to more comprehensively understand the experience and effectiveness of this teaching strategy.


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