No previous rigorous qualitative studies exist on student Balint groups. The aim of this study was to explore the contexts and triggers of cases presented in student Balint groups and to clarify the themes in the group discussions.
Fifteen student Balint sessions in two groups were organised. Nine female students participated. A grounded theory-based approach with thematic content analysis of the field notes was used.
We identified five triggers for case narrations (witnessing injustice, value conflict, difficult human relationships, incurable patient, role confusion) that originated from three distinct contexts (patient encounters, confusing experiences in medical education, tension between privacy and profession). Four main discussion themes could be identified (feelings related to patients, building professional identity, negative role models, cooperation with other medical professionals).
The concept of case in student Balint groups was wider than in traditional Balint groups. Feelings related to patients and to one's own role as a doctor were openly discussed in groups. The discussions often touched on professional growth and future professional identity as doctors.
The Balint groups may support medical students' professional growth process. This topic warrants further study in more heterogeneous student groups.