Objectives: Over the last two decades, the number of scoping reviews in core medical education journals has increased by 4200%. Despite this growth, research on scoping reviews provides limited information about their nature, including how they are conducted or why medical educators undertake this knowledge synthesis type. This gap makes it difficult to know where the field stands and may hamper attempts to improve the conduct, reporting and utility of scoping reviews. Thus, this review characterises the nature of medical education scoping reviews to identify areas for improvement and highlight future research opportunities.
Method: The authors searched PubMed for scoping reviews published between 1/1999 and 4/2020 in 14 medical education journals. The authors extracted and summarised key bibliometric data, the rationales given for conducting a scoping review, the research questions and key reporting elements as described in the PRISMA-ScR. Rationales and research questions were mapped to Arksey and O'Malley's reasons for conducting a scoping review.
Results: One hundred and one scoping reviews were included. On average, 10.1 scoping reviews (SD = 13.1, median = 4) were published annually with the most reviews published in 2019 (n = 42). Authors described multiple reasons for undertaking scoping reviews; the most prevalent being to summarise and disseminate research findings (n = 77). In 11 reviews, the rationales for the scoping review and the research questions aligned. No review addressed all elements of the PRISMA-ScR, with few authors publishing a protocol (n = 2) or including stakeholders (n = 20). Authors identified shortcomings of scoping reviews, including lack of critical appraisal.
Conclusions: Scoping reviews are increasingly conducted in medical education and published by most core journals. Scoping reviews aim to map the depth and breadth of emerging topics; as such, they have the potential to play a critical role in the practice, policy and research of medical education. However, these results suggest improvements are needed for this role to be fully realised.
© 2020 Association for the Study of Medical Education and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.