Methodology in Medical Education: misunderstood and underrepresented

KG

Keegan Curlewis is a final year medical student at Brighton and Sussex Medical School. He is co-lead of the Events subteam of JASME (Junior Association for the Study of Medical Education).

I am coming towards the end of my medical school journey. On reflection over the past five years, I can recall having lectures on almost every part of the body and experiencing many different medical and surgical specialties. Memories of lectures focussing on methodology in medical education are… sparse.

This is no surprise. Despite the word “doctor” meaning teacher, from the Latin “docere”, medical schools have historically glossed over medical education as a topic.1 Medical students and junior doctors are left to learn more about teaching through intercalated degrees or postgraduate courses. However, this knowledge is valued highly within the medical workplace; for example, applications for higher training often require “Training in Teaching”.

Medical education research is often frowned upon as not “real science”. The literature shows that some regard it as “soft” and “inferior” compared to other forms of research. This is compounded when a significant portion of methodology in medical education is qualitative.

Grounded theory… phenomenology… ethnography… These terms are likely to confuse or send a shudder down the spine of a novice medical educator. But I would argue that an understanding of these terms is important to all in medicine. The reason is simple: some of the most important, pressing questions in medicine require a qualitative approach for meaningful answers to be found.2

Qualitative research has increased in popularity in recent years, as the wider scientific community has begun to value the importance of this approach. There has been a shift in the understanding of qualitative research so that it is no longer deemed directly comparable to quantitative research, but instead allows us to investigate different questions. It is likely that this trend will continue.

As it does, I would encourage you to consider methodology in medical education. Why do you think it is important? Are there ways that you can encourage others to consider its value? How can we, as a medical education community, encourage medical schools to place higher value on medical education methodology as an important part of research methodology, alongside statistics and quantitative analysis?

I’d like to end this blog with a quote:

“Stories give life to data, and data gives authority to stories” – Wendy Newman, 2017

References

  • Dandavino M, Snell L, Wiseman J. Why medical students should learn how to teach. Med Teach. 2007;29(6):558-65. Available from: 1080/01421590701477449
  • Cristancho SM, Goldszmidt M, Lingard L, Watling C. Qualitative research essentials for medical education. Singapore Med J. 2018; 59(12): 622–627. Available from: 11622/smedj.2018093
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