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Fifty years of medical education research: waves of migration


Geoff Norman, MDCL-3519, McMaster University, 1200 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario L8N 3Z5, Canada. Tel: 1 905 5259140, ext. 22119; Fax: 1 905 572 7299; E-mail:


Medical Education 2011; 45: 785–791

Context  Medical education research has been an academic pursuit for over 50 years, tracing its roots back to the Office of Medical Education at the State University of New York at Buffalo, New York, with George Miller. As the field has matured, the nature of the questions posed and the disciplinary bases of its practitioners have evolved.

Methods  I identify three chronological ‘generations’ of academics who have contributed to the field, at intervals of roughly 10–15 years.

Results  Members of the first generation came from diverse and unrelated academic backgrounds and essentially learned their craft on the job. A second generation, emerging in the 1980s and 1990s, consisted of individuals with PhD-level training in relevant fields such as psychology, psychometrics and sociology, who actively chose a career in health sciences education, often during graduate work. These individuals brought a strong disciplinary orientation to their research. Finally, the proliferation of graduate programmes in medical education means that we are now seeing the evolution of a new type of academic, often a health professional, whose only discipline is medical education.

Conclusions  I propose that we should strike a balance between seeking to create a separate specialty of medical education and continuing to actively recruit from other academic disciplines. I believe that the strong disciplinary roots of these individuals are a critical element in the continuing growth and progress of medical education research.