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Perspect Med Educ. 2017 Sep 26. doi: 10.1007/s40037-017-0371-z. [Epub ahead of print]

Getting off the carousel: Exploring the wicked problem of curriculum reform.

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Institute of Education for Medical and Dental Education, School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK.
Institute of Education for Medical and Dental Education, School of Medicine and Dentistry, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeen, UK.
Department of Innovation in Medical Education, Office of Continuing Professional Development, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Canada.



Making substantial changes to the form and delivery of medical education is challenging. One reason for this may be misalignment between existing conceptualizations of curricula and curriculum reform in medical education, with the former perceived as 'complex' yet the latter as linear. Reframing curriculum reform as a process-driven, complex entity may enhance the possibility of change. To explore the utility of this approach, we carried out an exploratory case study of curriculum reform in a real-life context.


We used a qualitative case study approach. Data were collected from 17 interviews with senior faculty involved in curriculum reform in one medical school plus document analysis of approximately 50 documents and files, to provide background, context, and aid triangulation.


Data coding and analysis was initially inductive, using thematic analysis. After themes were identified, we applied the 'wicked problem' framework to highlight aspects of the data. This paper focuses on two main analytic themes. First, that multiple players hold different views and values in relation to curriculum reform, resulting in various influences on the process and outcomes of reform. Second, 'solutions' generate consequences which go beyond the anticipated advantages of curriculum reform.


This is the first empirical study of curriculum reform in medical education which uses the wicked problem framework to conceptually illuminate the complex processes which occur in relation to reform. Those involved in reform must be reflective and attentive to the possibility that persistent and emerging challenges may be a result of wicked problems.


Case Study; Curriculum Reform; Undergraduate Medical Education; Wicked Problem

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