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Context and setting Increasingly, clinical faculty members are being encouraged to participate in education scholarship, but for those without a pre-existing track record of such work, a number of barriers exist. Neither traditional faculty development programmes nor advanced education training, including that provided by Master’s level programmes, may adequately address these barriers.

Why the idea was necessary Although many medical school faculty members possess a personal interest in research and some have also undertaken advanced education training, few have successfully transitioned to a stage of actively pursuing education research. In our institution, we found a trend for faculty members interested in education to choose leadership over research career paths. A local needs assessment identified a gap in the area of education research mentorship, which we surmised might be a contributor to these problems. The purpose of this project was to assess the feasibility and effectiveness of using an external mentor to support a research group that would in turn promote the development of a cadre of medical education researchers.

What was done In the fall of 2005, we arranged that a mid-career education scientist from a nearby medical school, with expertise in qualitative research, would serve as a research mentor. The opportunity to participate in a group mentored by the expert was advertised via e-mail. The project had six phases: (i) initial group formation and introduction to qualitative methods (three monthly meetings with readings); (ii) identification of a research question and determination of appropriate methodology for its exploration (four bi-monthly meetings); (iii) delegation of a principal investigator and preparation of an ethics application and grant proposal (four to six meetings over 2 months); (iv) data collection and analysis (1 year); (v) dissemination of results (1 year), and (vi) development of follow-up projects (ongoing – into its second year post-project). During each phase, an attempt was made to include all members of the group and to allow different members to participate to greater and lesser extents depending on the tasks and their availability. As the group progressed into phases 4–6, the mentor personally attended meetings at key time-points, but was continually available for advice by phone and e-mail.

Evaluation of results and impact Ten individuals indicated an initial interest in participating and nine committed to joining after the first meeting. One dropped out by phase 2. Two others subsequently dropped out because of time constraints by phase 3. The remaining six individuals have collaboratively published two papers and have another currently under review. Six peer-reviewed presentations have been given at international meetings and five at local education conferences. All members co-authored the papers and all but one have presented. The group has remained together and has received two additional grants for follow-up projects. In a post-project anonymous survey, all members who continued their participation rated their experiences very highly. One group member said: ‘It was one of the highlights of my working career.’ Lastly, our mentor also rated the experience highly and has agreed to continue mentoring the group during its ongoing projects.