Critical Thinking in Medicine: All You Wanted To Know 

We’ve often come across the importance of possessing critical thinking into our lives. From being trained at coaching institutes to getting listed as one of the requisites in job descriptions, the quality of critical thinking is regarded as important everywhere. It can be an art, science, and a miracle, all at the same time! Let’s dig deeper and discover more about this art, science, and miracle of the human brain. 

What is critical thinking?

Starting with its meaning and definition, over time, the clarity of critical thinking has evolved with multiple understandings about the subject. Most definitions of it can be fairly complex and best taught and understood by philosophy majors or psychologists. 

Beyer (1995), provides the most basic definition of Critical Thinking as “making reasoned judgments”. 

In another understanding, it is the ability to think clearly and rationally about what to do and/or what to believe. It also includes the ability to engage in reflective and independent thinking. A person with critical thinking skills is capable of the following:

What are its characteristics?

According to experts, to think critically involves asking questions, defining a problem, analyzing evidence, examining assumptions and biases, overlooking emotional reasoning, avoiding oversimplification, and tolerating ambiguity. 

Besides, considering other interpretations and dealing with ambiguity also constitute critical thinking. Other characteristics include:

  • Disposition – People who think critically are skeptical, open-minded, respect clarity and precision, look at different points of view, and respect evidence and reasoning. 
  • Criteria – An individual must apply specific criteria along with conditions that must be met for something to be reasoned as believable. 
  • Reasoning – The ability to arrive at a conclusion from one or more premises, using logical relationships among statements or data. 


What are the steps involved in critical thinking?

It is a common misconception that it limits creativity as it involves the rules of rationality and logic, however, creativity requires breaking rules, unlike to think critically. Cognitive steps in thinking critically include: 

  • Gathering information from all sources i.e. verbal and/or written expressions, reflections, experience, and observation
  • Gathering and assessing relevant information
  • Deriving well-reasoned conclusions and solutions
  • Testing outcomes against relevant criteria
  • Evaluating all assumptions, implications, and practical consequences

How critical thinking is helpful to medical students?

In the healthcare industry, medical professionals are known to use critical thinking, especially when they derive knowledge from other interdisciplinary subject areas to provide a holistic approach to their patients. Medical students can utilize their ability to think critically for the following: 

  • Avoiding medical/clinical errors
  • Identifying better alternatives for diagnosis and treatment
  • Better ability to make clinical decisions 
  • Working in a resource-limited environment
  • Quality thinking, quality work output, and increased productivity

Can it be taught?

To an extent, critical thinking can not only be taught but also developed and enhanced by experts through technology. As massive information is available in the present times, students only need a befitting trainer to guide them through the information and inculcate it the right way. 

Students need to develop and apply critical thinking skills effectively to complex problems and to critical choices they are forced to face, as a result of the information explosion and other dynamic technological changes. Since questioning is one of the important aspects of critical thinking, it is essential to teach students how to ask good, relevant, and logical questions to think critically and succeed.

The Takeaway 

Every new or established medical professional should understand their psychological foibles so as to be much clearer about every aspect of their lives and to make the best decisions. Some worthwhile quotes for every medical practitioner:

  • “Knowledge of bias should contribute to your humility, not your confidence”
  • “When beliefs are based on emotions, facts alone stand little chance”
  • “Reason evolved primarily to win arguments, not to solve problems”