COVID-19 struck the world and stretched the healthcare system and professionals. Medical students engaged in the pandemic effort, making personal and professional sacrifices. However, the impact of these sacrifices on students` professional development is still unknown. We applied constructivist grounded theory to individual audio diaries (total time = 5h38 min) and interviews (total time = 11h57min) performed with 18 last-year medical students during the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic in Brazil. The perspective of making sacrifices caused initial emotional distress in medical students, followed by a negotiation process revolving around three themes: predisposition to sacrifice, sense of competence, and sense of belonging. This negotiation process led to three response patterns: Pattern A: “No sense of duty”–the sacrifice was perceived as meaningless, and students showed intense anger and a desire to flee; Pattern B: “Sense of duty with hesitation to act”–the sacrifice was acknowledged as legitime, but students felt unprepared to contribute, leading to feelings of frustration and shame; and, Pattern C: “Sense of duty with readiness to act”–the engagement with the sacrifice was perceived as an opportunity to grow as a doctor, leading to fulfillment and proudness. Students ready to engage with the COVID-19 effort experienced identity consonance, reinforcing their professional identities. Students who felt incompetent or found the sacrifice meaningless experienced identity dissonance, which led to emotional suffering and the consideration of abandoning the course. Monitoring students' emotional reactions when facing professional challenges creates opportunities to problematize the role of sacrifice in the medical profession and scaffold professional identity development.
- Identity formation
- Professional development
- Qualitative research
- Undergraduate medical education