Curriculum reform: a narrated journey


Geraldine MacCarrick, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Faculty of Medicine & Health Sciences, St Stephens Green, Dublin 2, Ireland. Tel: 00 353 1 402 2225; Fax: 00 353 1 402 2470; E-mail:


Objectives  Curriculum reform poses significant challenges for medical schools across the globe. Understanding the medical educator’s personal and lived experience of curriculum change is paramount. This paper illustrates the use of narrative inquiry as a means of exploring the author’s own evolving professional identity as a medical educator engaged in planning and leading curriculum reform and in understanding the meanings she and other medical educators attribute to their roles as agents of change in a medical school.

Context  In 2002 it was decided to radically reform a school of medicine’s (SoM) traditional 6-year medical degree course (converting it to a 5-year, integrated, case-based programme). This followed a decade of adverse external reports by the national accreditation agency. The 2001 accreditation report was the most significant catalyst for change, and drew attention to the School’s need for a ‘collective will’ to introduce a series of specific curriculum reforms. To support this reform, a new curriculum working group (NCWG) supported by a dedicated medical education unit (MEU) was established. In late 2002 the author joined the School as the director of that unit.

Methods  This paper draws on a 3-year study which captured the stories of the curriculum planning project between 2002 and 2005, as well as stories of curriculum reform from past deans of the same medical school dating back to 1965. Narrative inquiry is used as a means of probing the author’s own lived experience as coordinator of the new curriculum project and the experiences of key members of the NCWG, including the dean, and of former deans from the same medical school over its 40-year history.

Conclusions  Through a living, telling and retelling of the story of curriculum change, narrative inquiry has a role to play in both elucidating the individual lived experience of curriculum change and shaping the evolving professional identity of the medical educator as an agent of change.