Looking back to the future: a message for a new generation of medical educators


Professor Ronald M Harden, Association for Medical Education in Europe (AMEE), 484 Perth Road, Dundee DD2 1LR, UK Tel: 00 44 1382 381983; Fax: 00 44 1382 381987; E-mail: r.m.harden@dundee.ac.uk


Medical Education 2011; 45: 777–784

Objective  Many changes in medical education have occurred during the author’s 50-year career in the field. The aim of this paper is to describe 10 lessons worth recording for others engaged in the training of health care professionals.

Three Career Phases  The first phase in the author’s career occurred during 1960–1972 in Glasgow, where an interest in medical education developed alongside an engagement in clinical medicine and research into iodine metabolism. The second phase took place during 1972–2002 in Dundee, where, after working for a period as a clinician, the author made a full-time commitment to medical education. The third phase, from 2002 to the present, has provided the opportunity to explore new horizons in medical education.

Conclusions  The following lessons have been learned. (i) People are important as role models and collaborators. (ii) Innovation in medical education is a complex process and research findings can easily be misinterpreted. (iii) Nudges, interventions that encourage rather than mandate change, are valuable. (iv) Students are important players in planning, delivering and evaluating a curriculum. Each student has different needs and aspirations. They are the ‘digital natives’. (v) Offer stakeholders practical solutions to problems that can be implemented. (vi) There is always something to learn outside one’s own practice. Go to a conference or read a journal in a related field. (vii) Time spent recording one’s work and publishing reports based on it is rewarding. (viii) Learn from history. We don’t need to keep reinventing the wheel. (ix) Obtain independent funding. (x) Finally, and most importantly, have fun. Working in medical education can be exciting, fulfilling and hugely enjoyable.