Research in medical education: balancing service and science

AHSC.gif From the February 2007 issue of Advances in Health Sciences Education: Theory and Practice:

Albert M, Hodges B, Regehr G. Research in medical education: balancing service and science. Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract 2007; 12(1):1573-1677.

Abstract: Since the latter part of the 1990’s, the English-speaking medical education community has been engaged in a debate concerning the types of research that should have priority. To shed light on this debate and to better understand its implications for the practice of research, 23 semi-structured interviews were conducted with “influential figures” from the community. The results were analyzed using the concept of “field” developed by the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu. The results reveal that a large majority of these influential figures believe that research in medical education continues to be of insufficient quality despite the progress that has taken place over the past 2 decades. According to this group, studies tend to be both redundant and opportunistic, and researchers tend to have limited understanding of both theory and methodological practice from the social sciences. Three factors were identified by the participants to explain the current problems in research: the working conditions of researchers, budgetary restraints in financing research in medical education, and the conception of research in the medical environment. Two principal means for improving research are presented: intensifying collaboration between PhD’s and clinicians, and encouraging the diversification of perspectives brought to bear on research in medical education.

Excerpt from the editorial by Geoffrey Norman: How bad is medical education research anyway?

There are times when I fear that our research community has taken a cue from the medieval monks in the practice of self-flagellation. Recently, a commentary appeared in the pages of BMJ from two researchers in
Maastricht (Schuwirth & van der Vleuten, 2006), in which a whole section was titled ‘‘Improve research standards’’, and began with the assertion that ‘‘Several factors could explain the poor quality of much published research’’. Well, some of the published research may be poor, but research from their institution is not, as their many articles which appear in these pages can attest. The same refrain was repeated in some sessions at the recent AMEE meeting in Genoa, where a number of groups reported on their findings regarding systematic reviews of particular educational questions like, ‘‘how good is self-assessment?’’ A routine comment during the course of each presentation was something like, ‘‘Of course, one problem was that the quality of the research was poor.’’


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