Scoping reviews in health professions education: challenges, considerations and lessons learned about epistemology and methodology

  • Aliki ThomasEmail author
  • Stuart Lubarsky
  • Lara Varpio
  • Steven J. Durning
  • Meredith E. Young


Scoping reviews are increasingly used in health professions education to synthesize research and scholarship, and to report on the depth and breadth of the literature on a given topic. In this Perspective, we argue that the philosophical stance scholars adopt during the execution of a scoping review, including the meaning they attribute to fundamental concepts such as knowledge and evidence, influences how they gather, analyze, and interpret information obtained from a heterogeneous body of literature. We highlight the principles informing scoping reviews and outline how epistemology—the aspect of philosophy that “deals with questions involving the nature of knowledge, the justification of beliefs, and rationality”—should guide methodological considerations, toward the aim of ensuring the production of a high-quality review with defensible and appropriate conclusions. To contextualize our claims, we illustrate some of the methodological challenges we have personally encountered while executing a scoping review on clinical reasoning and reflect on how these challenges could have been reconciled through a broader understanding of the methodology’s philosophical foundation. We conclude with a description of lessons we have learned that might usefully inform other scholars who are considering undertaking a scoping review in their own domains of inquiry.


Challenges Epistemology Methodology Methods Scoping Reviews 





Partially supported by the Fonds de Recherche du Québec-Santé (FRQ-S) Junior research scholar awards to AT and MY.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

Not applicable.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Physical and Occupational TherapyMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Rehabilitation of Greater MontrealMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Institute of Health Sciences EducationMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  4. 4.Department of NeurologyFaculty of MedicineMontrealCanada
  5. 5.Department of MedicineUniformed Services University of the Health SciencesBethesdaUSA
  6. 6.Department of MedicineMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada

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