Complex Professional Learning: Physicians Working for Aid Organizations


  • Katarzyna Wolanik Boström Umea University



This article addresses the issue of professional learning of Swedish physicians returning from their work for international aid organisations in the global South. It is a qualitative case study based on 16 in-depth interviews, which uses a thematic narrative analysis, a typology of knowledge, and the concept of symbolic capital. The doctors’ assignments in settings radically different from the welfare state context meant professional challenges, including an initial feeling of de-skilling, but also enhanced reflexivity and intensive and complex learning. The doctors acquired new medical and organisational knowledge, improved diagnostic skills, new perspectives on different health care systems, cultural contexts, global power relations, and postcolonial hierarchies. Since their return to Sweden, they have encountered a friendly but rather shallow interest in their experiences. Their new insights and ideas for change have not been easy to validate as symbolic capital, and their intensive individual learning is seldom utilised for organisational learning.


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How to Cite

Boström, K. W. (2018). Complex Professional Learning: Physicians Working for Aid Organizations. Professions and Professionalism, 8(1), e2002.

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