Society's changing needs, advancing knowledge, and innovations in education require constant changes of medical school curricula. But successful curricular change occurs only through the dedicated efforts of effective change agents. This study systematically searched and synthesized the literature on educational curricular change (at all levels of instruction), as well as organizational change, to provide guidance for those who direct curricular change initiatives in medical schools. The focus was on the process of planning, implementing, and institutionalizing curricular change efforts; thus, only those articles that dealt with examining the change process and articulating the factors that promote or inhibit change efforts were included.
In spite of the highly diverse literature reviewed, a consistent set of characteristics emerged as being associated with successful curricular change. The frequent reappearance of the same characteristics in the varied fields and settings suggests they are robust contributors to successful change. Specifically, the characteristics are in the areas of the organization's mission and goals, history of change in the organization, politics (internal networking, resource allocation, relationship with the external environment), organizational structure, need for change, scope and complexity of the innovation, cooperative climate, participation by the organization's members, communication, human resource development (training, incorporating new members, reward structure), evaluation, performance dip (i.e., the temporary decrease in an organization's performance as a new program is implemented), and leadership. These characteristics are discussed in detail and related specifically to curricular change in medical school settings.