Knowledge Syntheses in Medical Education: Demystifying Scoping Reviews

Acad Med. 2017 Feb;92(2):161-166. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000001452.


An unprecedented rise in health professions education (HPE) research has led to increasing attention and interest in knowledge syntheses. There are many different types of knowledge syntheses in common use, including systematic reviews, meta-ethnography, rapid reviews, narrative reviews, and realist reviews. In this Perspective, the authors examine the nature, purpose, value, and appropriate use of one particular method: scoping reviews. Scoping reviews are iterative and flexible and can serve multiple main purposes: to examine the extent, range, and nature of research activity in a given field; to determine the value and appropriateness of undertaking a full systematic review; to summarize and disseminate research findings; and to identify research gaps in the existing literature. Despite the advantages of this methodology, there are concerns that it is a less rigorous and defensible means to synthesize HPE literature. Drawing from published research and from their collective experience with this methodology, the authors present a brief description of scoping reviews, explore the advantages and disadvantages of scoping reviews in the context of HPE, and offer lessons learned and suggestions for colleagues who are considering conducting scoping reviews. Examples of published scoping reviews are provided to illustrate the steps involved in the methodology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection / methods*
  • Education, Medical / methods*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Review Literature as Topic*
  • Teaching*