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What is a 'critical incident'?

A critical incident need not be a dramatic event: usually it is an incident which has significance for you. It is often an event which made you stop and think, or one that raised questions for you. It may have made you question an aspect of your beliefs, values, attitude or behaviour. It is an incident which in some way has had a significant impact on your personal and professional learning.

In the university setting, a critical incident might include:

  • an aspect of your project or group work that went particularly well
  • an aspect of your project or group work that proved difficult
  • a piece of work that you found particularly demanding
  • a piece of work which increased your awareness, or challenged your understanding, of social justice issues; or
  • an incident involving conflict, hostility, aggression or criticism (Fook & Cooper, 2003).

In the clinical setting, a critical incident might include:

  • a medical emergency
  • an unusual condition
  • a difficult situation
  • a communication problem (eg. with a patient or colleague)
  • an interaction with a patient which made an impression on you (either positive or negative)
  • an incident that made you feel inadequate in some way
  • a time when you felt confronted; or
  • an incident which made you think differently, or caused you to question your assumptions or beliefs.

Critical incidents may relate to issues of communication, knowledge, treatment, culture, relationships, emotions or beliefs.

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