Doctors’ identity transitions: Choosing to occupy a state of ‘betwixt and between’

Lisi Gordon, Charlotte E. Rees, Divya Jindal-Snape

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)


Context: During transitions, doctors engage in identity work to adapt to changes in multiple domains. Accompanied by this are dynamic ‘liminal’ phases. Definitions of liminality denote a state of being ‘betwixt and between’ identities. From a social constructionist perspective, being betwixt and between professional identities may either involve a sense of disrupted self, requiring identity work to move through and out of being betwixt and between (ie, temporary liminality), or refer to the experiences of temporary workers (eg, locum doctors) or those in dual roles (eg, clinician-managers) who find themselves perpetually betwixt and between professional identities (ie, perpetual liminality) and use identity work to make themselves contextually relevant. In the health care literature, liminality is conceptualised as a linear process, but this does not align with current notions of transitions that are depicted as multiple, complex and non-linear. Methods: We undertook a longitudinal narrative inquiry study using audio-diaries to explore how doctors experience liminality during trainee-to-trained transitions. In three phases, we: (a) interviewed 20 doctors about his or her trainee-to-trained transitions; (b) collected longitudinal audio-diaries from 17 doctors for 6-9 months, and (c) undertook exit interviews with these 17 doctors. Data were analysed thematically, both cross-sectionally and longitudinally, using identity work theory as an analytical lens. Results: All participants experienced liminality. Our analysis enabled us to identify temporary and perpetual liminal experiences. Furthermore, fine-grained analysis of participants’ identity talk enabled us to identify points in participants’ journeys at which he or she rejected identity grants associated with his or her trained status and instead preferred to remain in and thus occupy liminality (ie, neither trainee nor trained doctor). Conclusions: This paper is the first to explore longitudinally doctors’ liminal experiences through trainee-to-trained transitions. Our findings also make conceptual contributions to the health care literature, as well as the wider interdisciplinary liminality literature, by adding further layers to conceptualisations and introducing the notion of occupying liminality.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1006-1018
Number of pages13
JournalMedical Education
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

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