How calling emerges and develops during COVID-19: a qualitative study of medical students

Jia Xu*, Baoguo Xie, Tingting Liu, Jie Li

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: The presence of calling in medicine has been shown to be related to a preponderance of positive outcomes among medical students. However, only a few studies examined the antecedents of calling. Of this group, little is known about how a calling emerges and develops in a crisis situation. This study examines the processes underlying the emergence and development of calling when confronted with COVID-19. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with medical students (N = 28) from China from February to March 2020. Medical students reported their experiences about the emergence of calling, its antecedents, and its outcomes in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews were transcribed and analyzed using a thematic analysis approach. Results: Four main themes were identified: (1) the definition of calling, (2) the trajectories of calling development, (3) the factors leading to the emergence of calling, and (4) the outcomes of the emergence of calling. Medical students conceptualized calling as both self- and other-oriented regarding serving the common good. Three calling paths were revealed: significantly enhanced, growing out of nothing, and remaining unchanged. Work sense-making and identity formation interact to facilitate the emergence of calling. The emergence of a calling affects career and study-related outcomes. Discussion: Our findings advance the concept of how the calling of medical students emerges and develops in response to life events through work sense-making and identity formation. Academic institutions and medical educators could leverage these events to facilitate calling discernment among medical students.

Original languageEnglish
Article number929
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Calling
  • Emergence
  • Medical students


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