This is part of an ongoing Insights series published by the Institute of Health Sciences Education, sharing practical ideas for health sciences education.


By Matthew Brett

Maybe you are interested in revising curricula of a given course or program, or perhaps you would like your clinical mentorship skills to be based on the best available teaching evidence.

The various pathways that one can walk—or run—along to get involved in health sciences education (HSE) research are as diverse as the field itself. However, a common thread among HSE researchers is the desire to not only understand, but to improve, education across the health sciences and to enhance patient care.

This common thread emerged during the Health Sciences Education Rounds in November 2019. Co-hosted by the Institute of Health Sciences Education and the Faculty Development Office, “Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Becoming a Health Sciences Education (HSE) Researcher” saw three scholars— Ms. Susanne Mak, Dr. Fraser Moore and Dr. Geoffroy Noel—share their journeys through the rapidly evolving world of HSE research.

Insights from the three event speakers are shared here along with additional points about the field.


What is health sciences education research?

HSE research is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on the theory, practice, policies, and dynamics of education in clinical, classroom, laboratory, policy, and fieldwork settings. It aims to better understand and improve the interaction between education and health and to advance our knowledge in the theory and practice of health professions education to ultimately enhance patient care.

At the Institute of Health Sciences Education, major research domains include: professionalism and professional identity formation; faculty development and continuing professional development (CPD); innovations in teaching and learning; assessment and program evaluation; decision-making and clinical reasoning; and education and health care systems.

These research domains are informed by four cross-cutting goals and strategies: advancement of theory and research methodology; development of policy and practice; knowledge translation; and social accountability.


Why does health sciences education research matter?

Dr. Fraser Moore is an Associate Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, an Associate Member at the Institute, and Program Director for the McGill Adult Neurology Residency Program.

From his original love for teaching, Dr. Moore’s journey gradually led him to working on a curriculum redesign project in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery in 2011.

The revised curriculum, based on HSE research and evidence, is just one of countless examples where education research led to practical changes in curricula that improves not only education but, ultimately, patient care.

Dr. Geoffroy Noel’s ongoing applied research on the implications of integrating augmented reality technologies into curricula within the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology and other fields of study is another example, along with Ms. Susanne Mak’s research on attrition and retention within the professions of physical and occupational therapy, as well as speech-language pathology.


How can you get involved?

Here are some ideas that the three event speakers shared for how to get involved with HSE research.

Seize opportunities for research: perhaps you have been tasked with revising a course syllabus or an entire program. Why not make this part of an education research project? You can study the impact of changes on learning outcomes, for example. There are always opportunities to “make it scholarly” and collect invaluable evidence to help guide decisions and academic work.
Find a topic that you would like to investigate: there is always something to look into. Ms. Mak noticed that professionals were leaving the field of occupational therapy and made that an area of inquiry, while Dr. Noel was interested in the impacts of augmented reality upon learning outcomes. Reach out to a member of the Institute to see how you can make your education research topic a reality.
Seek feedback and consultations early: maybe you are implementing curriculum for a specific course or an entire program or Department and you would like to see it change, or you would like to study the impacts of a new teaching approach. Dr. Moore encouraged audience members to reach out to HSE researchers in the McGill community early on. Consultations are available through the Institute.
Collaborate and pollinate across disciplines: Dr. Noel stressed the benefits of collaboration as you can learn from others with more experience in HSE research, learn from other disciplines like the social sciences and humanities, and gain new perspectives, not to mention pooling often scarce resources. “Collaborating is what makes everything so rich,” Dr. Noel said. “And small funds go a very, very long way.”
Get students involved: “Students are committed to their education and want to join research efforts,” Dr. Noel said. Students can help with curriculum design, review and implementation. Some of Dr. Noel’s undergraduate students had not previously participated in education research, so the opportunity opened students to new knowledge, experience and career paths.
Humility and perseverance: having academic manuscripts rejected or occasionally receiving challenging feedback is not easy.

“I had moments where I couldn’t take in another constructive criticism where it questioned whether I should be there doing research, whether I had the skills,” said Ms. Mak. “I had to remind myself and continue to do so, that I am a learner, and that I’m meant to make mistakes and learn from them.”

Pursue educational opportunities: there are electives, fellowships, Master’s degrees and PhDs in HSE along with Faculty Development and Institute activities that can connect you to the HSE research community. Funding opportunities are likewise available through the Institute and elsewhere; for example, Ms. Mak received the Jonathan Campbell Meakins & Family Memorial Fellowship to launch her first study on professional identity formation among rehabilitation professionals.
Seek harmony in life and work: a mother, Associate Director, PhD student, life-partner, researcher, and daughter are just a few of the identities that Ms. Mak strives to establish harmony with.

Some dip a toe in HSE research while their primary work is in clinical settings, while others focus on education research as their profession. Finding a mix that works for you is entirely acceptable and encouraged.

Seek out peers, mentors and role models: build a professional bond with an HSE researcher or community of scholars to contribute to the community and benefit from this network.
Connect with the Institute: there are a range of possibilities at the Institute from applying for membership and attending membership meetings to requesting a meeting or consultation, presenting projects or ideas, or seeking in-person support for education research and implementation projects. It is a flexible field that allows for varying levels of engagement.

There are countless ways to get involved in HSE research, which can make a difference in the quality of education, ultimately improving patient care and the health of populations.



January 31 2020