A Constructive Reframing of Student Roles and Systems Learning in Medical Education Using a Communities of Practice Lens

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Abstract

Health systems are in the midst of a transformation that is being driven by a variety of forces. This has important implications for medical educators because clinical practice environments play a key role in learning and professional development, and evolving health systems are beginning to demand that providers have “systems-ready” knowledge, attitudes, and skills. Such implications provide a clear mandate for medical schools to modify their goals and prepare physicians to practice flexibly within teams and effectively contribute to the improvement of health care delivery. In this context, the concepts of value-added medical education, authentic student roles, and health systems science are emerging as increasingly important. In this Article, the authors use a lens informed by communities of practice theory to explore these three concepts, examining the implications that the communities of practice theory has in the constructive reframing of educational practices—particularly common student roles and experiences—and charting future directions for medical education that better align with the needs of the health care system. The authors apply several key features of the communities of practice theory to current experiential roles for students, then propose a new approach to students’ clinical experiences—value-added clinical systems learning roles—that provides students with opportunities to make meaningful contributions to patient care while learning health systems science at the patient and population level. Finally, the authors discuss implications for professional role formation and anticipated challenges to the design and implementation of value-added clinical systems learning roles.

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