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Monday, December 4, 2017

Faculty Development: new ways of seeing

Claire MacRae presented her project, looking at ways to enhance faculty department, at the Scottish Medical Education Conference (5th-6th May 2017). This work is part of her SMERC funded project "Understanding, valuing and enhancing the role of clinicians who teach" as supervised by Dr Derek Jones (University of Edinburgh) and Dr Terese Stenfors-Hayes (Karolinska Institutet).  Her poster was well received from academics and practitioners alike!




Research into medical faculty development is often conducted by or for education organisations seeking insights into the ‘best’ ways to train faculty. However, changes implemented following such research may yield disappointing results, as tensions arise when attempting to balance individual attitudes, beliefs and experiences with organisational constraints, including time, money and regulatory frameworks. We argue that a critical realist approach to faculty development research can help mitigate these tensions.


Critical realist research begins with a problem, and attempts to understand why it arose and why it persists. It assumes that problems experienced by individuals or groups have ‘real’ causes, often located at organizational level. We exemplify this by exploring the commonly-held belief that the role of the clinical teacher is not recognised or valued, using qualitative methods including critical discourse analysis and semi-structured interviews.


Clinicians commonly describe lack of protected teaching time as having ‘caused’ them to feel unrecognised, however our emerging results suggest that the situation is the cumulative result of many factors over a period of time. Critical realism acknowledges that individual perspectives do not necessarily reflect the complexity of a situation, and that suggestions for change must be realistic at organisational level. We feel that our findings can inform multiple small and feasible changes which are more likely to lead to long-term success. .


Critical realism offers a way of viewing the world that accepts and embraces complexity. It promotes a deep, contextualised approach to investigating problems, and can offer insights into why some initiatives are more successful than others, and which contextual factors have the greatest impact on success. It has been particularly useful for research spanning the boundaries between individuals and organizations in other disciplines, and our findings suggest it could also be a very fruitful approach for faculty development researchers.

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