In this issue

Why researchers and educators should care about qualitative synthesis

Many influential systematic reviews use qualitative synthesis to establish the collective meaning from a range of qualitative, mixed-methods or heterogeneous health professional education studies. There is little discussion or debate in the health professions' education literature regarding the processes and relative merits of different approaches to qualitative synthesis. Bearman and Dawson describe three diverse qualitative synthesis methodologies – thematic analysis, meta-ethnography and realist. Whilst they do not advocate for a particular method, they note that different approaches align with different purposes. They argue that authors should be transparent about their methodologies to enable better critical analysis of review findings.

Bearman M, Dawson P. Qualitative synthesis and systematic review in health professions education. Med Educ; 47: 252–60.

Improving the quality of qualitative research

Stenfors-Hayes and colleagues introduce phenomenography as a viable qualitative approach to medical education research. Phenomenography studies the different ways in which people experience and understand the world around them and how these ways of understanding are related to each other. It provides a lens for exploring certain types of research questions and provides support for how to empirically carry out qualitative research. With this paper, Stenfors-Hayes et al suggest that using a phenomenographic approach can significantly contribute to the improvement of the quality of qualitative medical education research as well as more solidly linking research with educational development and change.

Stenfors-Hayes T, Hult H, Dahlgren MA. A phenomenographic approach to research in medical education. Med Educ; 47: 261–70.

Effects of innovation in medical education

In this study Fokkema et al consider how, aside from their intended impact, innovations may affect other areas of day-to-day practice. Using a phenomenological approach they explore how a purposively sampled set of consultants and trainees, users of one innovation, work-based assessment, perceived its effects in practice. Their findings suggest that educationalists, administrators and clinicians who design and implement innovations in postgraduate medical education should be aware that innovations may trigger a variety of effects in the workplace.

Fokkema JPI, Teunissen PW, Westerman M, van der Lee N, van der Vleuten CPM, Scherpbier AJJA, Dörr PJ, Scheele F. Exploration of perceived effects of innovations in postgraduate medical education. Med Educ; 47: 271–81.

Extending diagnostic strategy research beyond the laboratory

Much of what we know about diagnostic strategy has been discovered via controlled experimentation. This approach may be complemented by research conducted in more “naturalistic” settings. In this study, by Cianciolo and colleagues, the multiple-choice and clinical competency exam scores of 133 medical students were analysed to investigate whether scientific and patient-centered information support diagnostic strategy at the early stages of professional development. The results suggest that students possessed separate, but complementary cognitive tools—biomedical knowledge and clinical pattern recognition—which contributed to an integrated (analytic and non-analytic) diagnostic strategy.

Cianciolo AT, Williams RG, Klamen DL, Roberts NK. Biomedical knowledge, clinical cognition and diagnostic justification: a structural equation model. Med Educ; 47: 309–16.