Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
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The ubiquity of uncertainty: a scoping review on how undergraduate health professions’ students engage with uncertainty.

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journal contribution
posted on 2021-03-09, 08:42 authored by Jenny MoffettJenny Moffett, Jennifer Hammond, Paul Murphy, Teresa PawlikowskaTeresa Pawlikowska
Although the evidence base around uncertainty and education has expanded in recent years, a lack of clarity around conceptual terms and a heterogeneity of study designs means that this landscape remains indistinct. This scoping review explores how undergraduate health professions' students learn to engage with uncertainty related to their academic practice. To our knowledge, this is the first scoping review which examines teaching and learning related to uncertainty across multiple health professions. The scoping review is underpinned by the five-stage framework of (Arksey and O'Malley in Scoping studies: Towards a methodological framework International Journal of Social Research Methodology 8(1) 19-32, 2005). We searched MEDLINE, Embase, PsychINFO, ISI Web of Science, and CINAHL and hand-searched selected health professions' education journals. The search strategy yielded a total of 5,017 articles, of which 97 were included in the final review. Four major themes were identified: "Learners' interactions with uncertainty"; "Factors that influence learner experiences"; "Educational outcomes"; and, "Teaching and learning approaches". Our findings highlight that uncertainty is a ubiquitous concern in health professions' education, with students experiencing different forms of uncertainty at many stages of their training. These experiences are influenced by both individual and system-related factors. Formal teaching strategies that directly support learning around uncertainty were infrequent, and included arts-based teaching, and clinical case presentations. Students also met with uncertainty indirectly through problem-based learning, clinical teaching, humanities teaching, simulation, team-based learning, small group learning, tactical games, online discussion of anatomy topics, and virtual patients. Reflection and reflective practice are also mentioned as strategies within the literature.


RCSI HPEC (Health Professions’ Education Centre)



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Published Citation

Moffett J, Hammond J, Murphy P, Pawlikowska T. The ubiquity of uncertainty: a scoping review on how undergraduate health professions' students engage with uncertainty. Advances in Health Eciences Education. 2021:1–46.

Publication Date

1 March 2021

PubMed ID



  • Health Professions Education Centre
  • Library

Research Area

  • Health Professions Education


Springer Nature


  • Published Version (Version of Record)