Research Methodologies in Health Professions Education Publications: Breadth and Rigor

Acad Med. 2022 Nov 1;97(11S):S54-S62. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000004911. Epub 2022 Aug 9.


Purpose: Research methodologies represent assumptions about knowledge and ways of knowing. Diverse research methodologies and methodological standards for rigor are essential in shaping the collective set of knowledge in health professions education (HPE). Given this relationship between methodologies and knowledge, it is important to understand the breadth of research methodologies and their rigor in HPE research publications. However, there are limited studies examining these questions. This study synthesized current trends in methodologies and rigor in HPE papers to inform how evidence is gathered and collectively shapes knowledge in HPE.

Method: This descriptive quantitative study used stepwise stratified cluster random sampling to analyze 90 papers from 15 HPE journals published in 2018 and 2019. Using a research design codebook, the authors conducted group coding processes for fidelity, response process validity, and rater agreement; an index quantifying methodological rigor was developed and applied for each paper.

Results: Over half of research methodologies were quantitative (51%), followed by qualitative (28%), and mixed methods (20%). No quantitative and mixed methods papers reported an epistemological approach. All qualitative papers that reported an epistemological approach (48%) used social constructivism. Most papers included participants from North America (49%) and Europe (20%). The majority of papers did not specify participant sampling strategies (56%) or a rationale for sample size (80%). Among those reported, most studies (81%) collected data within 1 year.The average rigor score of the papers was 56% (SD = 17). Rigor scores varied by journal categories and research methodologies. Rigor scores differed between general HPE journals and discipline-specific journals. Qualitative papers had significantly higher rigor scores than quantitative and mixed methods papers.

Conclusions: This review of methodological breadth and rigor in HPE papers raises awareness in addressing methodological gaps and calls for future research on how the authors shape the nature of knowledge in HPE.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Data Collection
  • Health Occupations / education
  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Qualitative Research
  • Research Design*