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“Medical Education Is the Ugly Duckling of the Medical World” and Other Challenges to Medical Educators’ Identity Construction: A Qualitative Study

Sabel, Esther MD; Archer, Julian MD, PhD; on behalf of the Early Careers Working Group at the Academy of Medical Educators

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000420
Research Reports

Purpose: The authors first aimed to ascertain how the Academy of Medical Educators (AoME) could develop and support early career medical educators. They expanded their study to explore the challenges to defining medical education as a discipline because of a lack of collective identity among educators.

Method: In 2010, the authors and members of the AoME Early Careers Working Group conducted focus groups with early career medical educators (clinicians and scientists) and interviews with senior medical educators in the United Kingdom. All focus groups and interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. The authors used an interpretative phenomenological analy sis to explore how medical educators described events or phenomena in their careers. They inductively identified overarching theoretical perspectives to understand observed phenomena drawing on social identity theories.

Results: The authors conducted nine focus groups with 34 participants in total and six interviews. Participants identified fundamental challenges to their identity as a medical educator; they understood their medical education role to be secondary to their primary role as clinician or scientist. Participants noted that they had not developed an emotional attachment to medical education. Their relationship with the field remained at an operational level, revolving around roles and responsibilities.

Conclusions: Medical educators’ social cohesion is threatened by their sense that educators are poor relations compared with scien tists and clinicians. While medical educators’ identities may be in crisis, they also are changing, a change needed for medical education, medical education research, the practice of medicine, and ultimately patient care.

Dr. Sabel is a fellow in medical education, London Deanery, London, England.

Dr. Archer is National Institute for Health Research career development fellow, clinical senior lecturer, and director, Collaboration for the Advancement in Medical Education Research and Assessment, Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, Plymouth, England.

Funding/Support: This research was funded by the Academy of Medical Educators, an independent charity in the United Kingdom, which supports all those involved in the academic discipline of medical education.

Other disclosures: None reported.

Ethical approval: A senior manager at the National Research Ethics Service (NRES) confirmed that this study did not require formal NRES approval.

Disclaimer: The views reported in this article do not necessarily represent the views of the Academy of Medical Educators.

Previous presentations: E.S. presented this article at the Academy of Medical Educators annual conference in London, England, in June 2012.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Archer, Plymouth University Peninsula Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, C408 Portland Square, Plymouth University, Drake Circus, Plymouth, England PL4 8AA; telephone: (+44) 1752-586750; e-mail:

© 2014 by the Association of American Medical Colleges