Is being a medical educator a lonely business? The essence of social support

Med Educ. 2017 Mar;51(3):302-315. doi: 10.1111/medu.13162. Epub 2017 Jan 13.


Context: Social support helps prevent burnout and promotes its positive opposite, work engagement. With higher work engagement performance increases. The context-specific aspects of social support for medical educators, in their educator role, are unknown. To help facilitate social support our study describes the essential elements of social support and their meaning for medical educators.

Methods: We held interviews with medical educators purposefully sampled for diverse backgrounds and working circumstances and who spent a considerable amount of time on education. Both clinicians and basic scientists participated. The Pictor technique guided the interviews. Participants were invited to talk about the breadth of social support and elaborate on meaningful experiences. Template analysis was used for a descriptive phenomenological approach.

Results: Thirteen medical educators were interviewed. We identified four themes: (i) sources of support and their intent (e.g. a superior with the intent to stimulate personal growth); (ii) the materialisation of support (e.g. sought or offered); (iii) its manifestation (e.g. the act of providing protected time); and (iv) the overarching effect of social support, both in terms of practical effects and the meaning of support. We identified three sorts of meanings of social support for educators. Receiving support could lead to (i) feeling reassured and confident; (ii) feeling encouraged and determined and (iii) a sense of relatedness and acknowledgement of the educator role.

Conclusion: Support for education comes from a wide range of sources because it is both sought and offered beyond the boundaries of the educational role. The resulting differences in support provided necessitate that educational leaders and policymakers consider the sources available to each educator, connecting educators where necessary. When facilitating or designing social support it is important that the need to feel reassured, encouraged or related is met.

MeSH terms

  • Education, Medical
  • Faculty, Medical / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Personal Satisfaction*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Social Support*