When the wheels fall off – Medical students’ experiences of interrupted academic progression

Sandra Carr, Andy M. Wearn, Benedict Canny, Di Carmody, Deborah Balmer, Tony Celenza, Basia Diug, Michelle Leech, Tim J. Wilkinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


There is limited published research on medical students’ perspectives of a significant interruption to their academic progression. This study sought to identify the factors that contribute to difficulties with academic progression and to understand how medical students successfully respond.
This interpretive phenomenological study reports on the findings from in-depth interviews of 38 final year medical students who had experienced a significant academic interruption.
The two superordinate themes were: the factors contributing to the interruption and their experience of the interruption. Factors identified as contributing to the interruption were: workload, learning in medicine, motivation for medicine, isolation, adapting to local culture, health and external factors. Their experience of the interruption focused on stages of working through the process: ‘what happened,’ ‘how it felt,’ ‘managing the failure,’ ‘accepting the failure’ and ‘making some changes.’
Each factor affected how the participants reacted and responded to the interruption. Regardless of the origins of the interruption, most reacted and responded in a comparable process, albeit with varying timespans. These reactions and responses were in a state of fluctuation. In order to succeed many stated they shifted their motivation from external to internal, in direct response to the interruption, resulting in changed learning behaviours.
The process of working through an interruption to academic progression for students may benefit from a model of interval debriefing, restorative academic and personal development support. Facilitation of this process could enable students to face an interruption constructively rather than as an insurmountable emotionally burdensome barrier. Medical schools could utilise these findings to implement further support strategies to reduce the number of significant academic disruptions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1015-1022
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Teacher
Issue number9
Early online date28 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2022


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