Article Review: Reframing research on faculty development

Every once in a while, an education article makes me pause and rethink things.

Faculty development is a concept which I have always taken for granted. Sure, our institution has a multitude of faculty development workshops such as:

  • Giving effective feedback
  • Educator's portfolio
  • Team-based learning

But are these workshops effective? What evidence is there on whether faculty development workshops even make a difference to the educator, learner, or patients? 

This article was written by two of our education gurus at UCSF (Dr. Pat O'Sullivan and Dr. David Irby), who challenge academic institutions to rethink and pursue more research on faculty development. It is a fairly dense read, but it's only because they packed so much goodness in the 8-page commentary.

What are the take-home points?

  • To conduct valuable research on faculty development, we need to rethink how we define faculty development. The framework should focus on 2 communities: the Faculty Development Community and the Workplace Community. Teaching faculty shouldn't focus entirely on their skills in isolation and outside of their workplace. Societal and environmental factors impact their teaching approaches and effectiveness. 
  • The Faculty Development Community consists of the facilitator, program (curriculum and content), organizational context (eg. classroom vs clinical setting), and participants (teachers and affiliated staff). These components are inextricably linked with the greater Workplace Community.
  • Faculty development is a "social enterprise" rather than a focus on just the individual teacher. That means that perhaps workshops not only include skill development but also working on applying these concepts in the actual workplace with the rest of the organizational team. 
  • Research can look at the interactions between and among the various links in the model above.
  • Educational research should be held to a different standard as traditional outcome-based research because while outcomes are important, process-oriented relationships are just as important. The authors make an eloquent argument on why educational research is unique and should viewed as such. 

The authors make 6 recommendations about faculty development:

  • Promote high-quality, thematic, sustained, and cumulative research programs using various methods/models/paradigms in medical education.
  • Embrace the use of an incremental and cyclical approach to research, as advocated by Bredo, in order to develop a deeper understanding of how faculty development actually works.
  • Test this expanded model of faculty development examining all the components and interrelationships with an emphasis on studying processes to better ascertain their impact on desired outcomes.
  • Test the application of the expanded faculty development model to various learners and career paths.
  • Establish a National Institute or Center for Health Professions Education Research with associated training, career development, investigator-initiated research, and centers of excellent funding mechanisms.
  • Advocate state, local, and private funding to support educational research and faculty development.

I redrew their new enhanced model on faculty development, partly because I have a secret desire to be a professional medical illustrator. Check out this upcoming Friday's Paucis Verbis card where you can see what a real medical professional illustrator can do.

O'Sullivan PS, Irby DM. Reframing research on faculty development. Acad Med. 2011, 86 (4), 421-8. PMID: 21346505

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