, Volume 18, Issue 4, pp 769-778
Date: 20 Oct 2012

Medical education: a particularly complex intervention to research

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Previous debate has explored whether medical education research should become more like health services research in terms of frameworks, collaborations and methodologies. Notable recent changes in health services research include an increasing emphasis on complex interventions, defined as interventions that involve more than one component. The purpose of this study was to explore the extent of thinking about medical education as a complex intervention and to analyse medical education research to determine whether its collaborations and methodologies are becoming more like health services research. Research articles published in three journals over 2 years were analysed to determine the purpose of the research in relation to a framework for evaluating complex interventions, the degree of collaboration, and the methodology. Most studies aimed to develop theory or assess effectiveness and many categories of the complex interventions framework were not represented in the medical education research literature. Studies usually involved only one research site and were predominantly quantitative but not experimental or quasi-experimental. Whilst medical education research has not moved significantly in the direction of health services research over recent years, the complex interventions lens provided insights into why this might be so (namely the significant challenges associated with researching medical education). We recommend that medical education researchers work within a complex interventions framework and look to research fields with similar challenges (e.g. the study of chronic illness in a changing context) for ideas about theories, frameworks, methodologies and collaborations that can illuminate the field of medical education research.