Background The cognitive pathways that lead to an accurate diagnosis and efficient management plan can touch on various clinical reasoning tasks (1). These tasks can be employed at any point during the clinical reasoning process and though the four distinct categories of framing, diagnosis, management, and reflection provide some insight into how these tasks map onto clinical reasoning, much is still unknown about the task-based clinical reasoning process. For example, when and how are these tasks typically used? And more importantly, do these clinical reasoning task processes evolve when patient encounters become complex and/or challenging (i.e. with contextual factors)? Methods We examine these questions through the lens of situated cognition, context specificity, and cognitive load theory. Sixty think-aloud transcripts from 30 physicians who participated in two separate cases – one with a contextual factor and one without – were coded for 26 clinical reasoning tasks (1). These tasks were organized temporally, i.e. when they emerged in their think-aloud process. Frequencies of each of the 26 tasks were aggregated, categorized, and visualized in order to analyze task category sequences. Results We found that (a) as expected, clinical tasks follow a general sequence, (b) contextual factors can distort this emerging sequence, and (c) the presence of contextual factors prompts more experienced physicians to clinically reason similar to that of less experienced physicians. Conclusions These findings add to the existing literature on context specificity in clinical reasoning and can be used to strengthen teaching and assessment of clinical reasoning.

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PubMed