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Asking great questions
  1. Elizabeth Osmond,
  2. Catarina Couto
  1. Regional Neonatal Unit, University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust, Bristol, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Elizabeth Osmond, Neonatal unit, University Hospitals Bristol NHS Foundation Trust, Bristol BS2 8EG, UK; elizabeth.osmond{at}

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Have you ever thought about how important questions are at every level of clinical practice?

Questioning leads to information discovery, whether this is as a learner or as a teacher. On a wider level, an organisation should ask questions of itself and the people within it in order to understand its current work and to innovate.1 A proactive approach to questioning is one adopted by large, successful companies2 and can be imitated in healthcare to improve teaching and learning at both individual and organisational levels.

Who is asking a question?

In order to develop empathic questioning, it is worth pondering that we all move between the states of learner or ‘novice’ and teacher or ‘expert’ in different contexts. For example, a new ST1 in a neonatal placement would have a novice role, while the consultant on service would assume the role of expert. However, trainees who have recently rotated from community paediatrics might bring their expertise and recent training to a neonatal intensive care unit ward round where there are safeguarding concerns about a patient. Equally, a trainee would seek guidance and advice from their educational supervisor, but the trainee would be the expert on their own lived experience as a trainee within the training programme.

A hospital trust, a deanery or a hospital department should ask questions of its members in order to grow and develop.

Therefore, at every level of clinical practice, questions are an important tool for learning.

How can questioning be used to teach critical thinking?

In the clinical setting, questions usually revolve around patients and their conditions. Experienced clinical educators will often (consciously or otherwise) adopt an approach to questioning which sequentially builds on prior knowledge. This allows learners to transition from a position of novice to expert and ultimately to produce new ideas,3–5 as shown in figure 1, Bloom’s taxonomy of cognitive processes.

Figure 1

Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive processes.

An example of this ‘Socratic questioning’ is shown in box …

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  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it first published. The provenance and peer review statement has been included.

  • Contributors EO and CC contributed to the manuscript and the revision process.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.