Would Socrates Have Actually Used the “Socratic Method” for Clinical Teaching?

Hugh A. Stoddard, David V. O’Dell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


Medical students and residents are familiar with clinical teaching methods in which a faculty member poses a series of questions to them. This technique is often called the “Socratic method,” but it is frequently perceived by learners as an attempt to demean them, a practice that is colloquially known as “pimping.” The distinction between Socratic teaching and pimping lies in the perception of “psychological safety.” Psychological safety allows learners to answer questions or ask for help without threats to their dignity or worthiness. In a psychologically safe clinical teaching context, learners recognize that questions posed by attending physicians probe their current understanding and guide them to expand their knowledge. In pimping, questions are posed to embarrass the learner and to reinforce the teacher’s position of power over them. Absent a threat of disparagement or condemnation, learners are able to focus on building schema for knowledge, skills, and attitudes, rather than worrying about shielding their self-worth. This article presents the proper Socratic method, as intended by Socrates, and contrasts it with pimping. This perspective defines psychological safety as the pivotal factor distinguishing Socratic teaching from pimping, and establishes the foundation for empirical studies of these common practices in medical education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1092-1096
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Socratic method
  • clinical teaching
  • faculty development
  • psychological safety

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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