CONTEXT  Major influences on learning about medical professionalism come from the hidden curriculum. These influences can contribute positively or negatively towards the professional enculturation of clinical students. The fact that there is no validated method for identifying the components of the hidden curriculum poses problems for educators considering professionalism. The aim of this study was to analyse whether a cultural web, adapted from a business context, might assist in the identification of elements of the hidden curriculum at a UK veterinary school.

METHODS  A qualitative approach was used. Seven focus groups consisting of three staff groups and four student groups were organised. Questioning was framed using the cultural web, which is a model used by business owners to assess their environment and consider how it affects their employees and customers. The focus group discussions were recorded, transcribed and analysed thematically using a combination of a priori and emergent themes.

RESULTS  The cultural web identified elements of the hidden curriculum for both students and staff. These included: core assumptions; routines; rituals; control systems; organisational factors; power structures, and symbols. Discussions occurred about how and where these issues may affect students’ professional identity development.

CONCLUSIONS  The cultural web framework functioned well to help participants identify elements of the hidden curriculum. These aspects aligned broadly with previously described factors such as role models and institutional slang. The influence of these issues on a student’s development of a professional identity requires discussion amongst faculty staff, and could be used to develop learning opportunities for students. The framework is promising for the analysis of the hidden curriculum and could be developed as an instrument for implementation in other clinical teaching environments.