Reflective practice in Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences

Reflective practice is...

An approach where a person deliberately reflects on their thoughts and actions in a situation, and then evaluates the effectiveness. It is a method of self-learning with the intention of developing a person’s critical thinking and understanding” ( IpAc, p.19).

Reflective practice combines experience and theory

Reflective practice is a process designed to help you analyse an experience or situation in order to create new understandings, and ultimately lead to greater self awareness. Reflective writing encourages you to think about what you have learned and how you have learned it, while taking into account your observations of your experiences and beliefs. This type of reflection draws upon your past experiences as learners, as well as your current experiences while on placement or in an internship, and links these with theoretical learning in your Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science units.

Reflective writing requires you to show that you can evaluate what you read, think and do, by acknowledging a range of viewpoints and possibilities. When you undertake a reflective task, you need to draw connections between what you have been asked to reflect on and relevant theories.

While there are numerous reflective practice models available, Borton’s (1970) framework is the preferred model for the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at Monash.

This simple framework is guided by three main questions:

Description vs Analysis

Students can sometimes make the mistake of thinking that reflective writing simply requires you to recount an event or describe a particular situation. Reflective practice within university assignments extends beyond this, and requires you not only to narrate or describe, but also to analyse.

One way simply recounts what took place, while the other explores why events unfolded in a particular way. Reflective writing considers theories that help explain what happened, and the significance of these scenarios towards your proposed actions for improvement.

Reflective writing requires just a brief description or summary, followed by a more sustained analysis. The analysis often unfolds by looking at your description or summary, and then ask ‘So what?’ and ‘Now what?’

What questions should you ask?

You might address the following questions in each section of your writing:

  • What: This section is descriptive and should answer the question ‘What happened?’ Consider what skill and any concepts or theories you’ll be reflecting on. Additionally, discuss how the situation made you feel.
  • So What: This section analyses why the situation happened in the way it did, and if your views were challenged. You might ask the following questions:
    • What aspect did I find particularly interesting or challenging?
    • How does this relate to what I’ve learned in the past?
    It’s important to remember to link your analysis to your future career as a pharmacist.
  • Now What: This final section outlines proposed actions you will take in future, in a similar situation, or in general. Ask yourself: What did I learn and what will I do differently next time?

Remember when writing a reflection for your Personalised Learning Plan (PLP), that you must include a SMART goal in your proposed action.

What is a SMART goal?

Goal setting is a helpful way to build your Pharmacy or Pharmaceutical Sciences career. Setting objectives and creating a clear outline of how you are going to attain these targets can help you to apply your time and resources effectively so you can succeed. When you set an objective for yourself, you will need to include each necessary step in order to successfully achieve the best result. If you’re writing a Personal Learning Plan, you’ll be required to use the SMART goal format in the Now What section: this format works for any reflection, however. Here is how SMART goals work and a few tips and examples to help you set your goals.

S = Specific Make your goals specific and narrow so that you can easily and effectively start planning each goal.

M = Measurable Define what evidence you need, to show that you are making progress. You should be prepared to reevaluate when it is necessary.

A = Achievable Make sure that you can reasonably achieve your goals within the timeframe that you have been given.

R = Realistic Your goals should align with your personal values and your long term objectives.

T = Timely Make sure that you set a realistic end date so that you can successfully prioritise your tasks and set your motivation to complete them.

Click the icons next to the example goal below to show comments. Click again to hide the comment.

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In order to improve my public speaking,Specific: This goal is focused on improving one skill, oral communication. I will practice my upcoming oral presentation with two of my peers,Realistic: Practicing with two people prior to presenting is a reasonable goal. and will use their feedback to adjust my performanceAchievable: Using feedback to adjust your presenting skills, along with the act of practicing itself in the time prior to the next session is achievable. before my next tutorial.Timely: Assuming the session is a week or two away, this goal has a realistic end date, as it’s confined to the immediate future, and has clearly laid out steps to meet the goal. I will know my presentation has improved by examining my lecturer’s comments and mark against my first presentation in Semester 1.Measurable: Using feedback to judge improvement, as well as receiving a higher grade and more positive feedback, makes this a measurable goal.


Tips for developing reflective practice

The best reflective learners and practitioners are constantly engaged in the processes described above. To become competent in reflective writing it requires daily practice and involves making time to think about the experiences you have had. Of course, you may need to revisit a single experience many times to understand your emotions and reactions, and to develop a deeper appreciation for the learning you can take from it.

Writing about your experiences should help you achieve this. A journal, diary or notebook might help establish the habit and provide you with valuable information when it comes to writing down these insights for a future assignment.

Below are some questions you can ask to prompt deeper analysis:

  • What was I thinking at the time?
  • How was I feeling at the time?
  • How have I felt about it since then?
  • Why did I choose this action or take that approach?
  • What theories can help explain this experience?
  • Are there theories that challenge my understanding or interpretation of this experience?
  • Is there another way I could interpret the situation?
  • What else could I have done?
  • What did I learn from this experience?
  • Did the experience affirm or challenge my existing understanding?
  • How will this new knowledge guide my future actions?
  • How can I implement lessons drawn from this experience into my own professional practice?

Language for reflective writing

Writing for reflection is usually not as formal nor academic as writing an essay or report. Nevertheless, it should still follow the rules of good writing and some academic conventions such as referencing any source material you may draw from.

You may find that the key difference you experience as a reflective writer is the space to write more subjectively than you’re used to in your academic work. That means, you can use the pronoun ‘I’ or ‘we’ and most importantly, you are encouraged to articulate and engage with your feelings! This is useful if you are trying to deal with conflicting emotions that you may encounter in your learning or in your professional development.


Below is some vocabulary that you may find useful when it comes to writing for reflection. Please do not limit yourself to this list. You should add items to this list of useful words as you develop.

For me the (most) (Adjectives) (Nouns) (Verbs)
meaningful aspect(s)  
significant element(s) was/were
important issue(s)  
useful idea(s)  
key experience(s)  
  learning arose from
happened when
resulted from

Reflecting in Pharmacy and in Pharmaceutical Science

To learn more about reflective practice in your area of study, and to view examples of reflective writing, skills coaching feedback, and agreed actions, click on the relevant link below.

Reflecting in Pharmacy

Reflecting in Pharmaceutical Sciences