Purpose: This paper answers two related questions: When did the education of doctors become a subject for scientific inquiry? And what were the political and economic contexts, the worldviews, structures and events, that enabled the emergence and development of medical education research at that time and in that manner?
Method: A detailed, concurrent, chronological textual analysis, with triangulation between textual form and contents, was conducted between 2006 and 2008. The primary texts were the complete volumes of the Journal of Medical Education (then the only journal in its field) from 1955 through 1959. Texts were analyzed within a theoretical framework grounded in the literature on interdisciplinary fields.
Results: In 1955, the academic medical community was just awakening to the possibility of medical education research; by 1959, it was institutionalized. Major factors contributing to its emergence included the increasing importance of scientific research generally, money for medical education research, the explosive growth of scientific knowledge, and growing calls for public accountability of medical education.
Conclusions: Many factors led to the emergence of medical education research in the late 1950s within a particular sociohistorical context. The nature of research in this field, which is currently the subject of debate, is also of necessity historically situated and contingent, drawing on its roots in this era. A historical understanding will inform further analysis of the events, structures, and worldviews that underpin the definition(s) of legitimate knowledge production within the field of medical education research.