A Medical Science Educator Article Review From Dr. Kelly Quesnelle

This month the IAMSE Publications Committee review is taken from the article titled “A Medical Science Educator’s Guide to Selecting a Research Paradigm: Building a Basis for Better Research,” published in Medical Science Educator, MSE (2020) 30, pages 545–553), by Megan E.L. Brown and Angelique N. Dueñas. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40670-019-00898-9

One of the most difficult transitions that many health sciences educators face is the transition of our scholarship from the natural sciences, in which many of us were trained, into the social sciences, where many of us lack formal training. In doing so, we may try to publish interventional outcome studies testing the efficacy of singular educational interventions at our own institutions. While this type of work is helpful in improving instruction at our own institutions, it can be difficult for others to understand how these interventions impact the larger field of medical education as a whole. In a paper published in Medical Science Educator in 2019, Brown & Dueñas challenge us to take our research further by developing a research paradigm.

A research paradigm will help your audience contextualize and understand your work more deeply than if your work was present in isolation; more than that, a research paradigm can help you design and construct the most methodologically-sound research project. In this work, Brown & Dueñas examine common research paradigms using a modified form of research “building blocks” that were first described in the early 1900s: axiology, ontology, epistemology, methodology, methods, and sources. They define each of these terms and discuss how each will contribute to research design in a sequential fashion. That is, the successful researcher will first determine an axiology to inform their ontology and epistemology, and so on. Brown & Dueñas then discuss in more detail four of the most common paradigms and their corresponding epistemological assumptions: positivist, post-positivist, constructivist, and critical theory. The culmination of the article is the application of these four common research paradigms from epistemology to research methodology with examples. The authors detail how each paradigm has corresponding, and sometimes overlapping, research methods. 

By using the building block model to help understand our own world views and the way we approach any given research project, we can be sure that we are using the appropriate methods to conduct our research. Many scientists are well-poised to examine the variables of a research study. However, too often we gloss over our own identities and beliefs as a predicating variable. By discussing and developing our research paradigm with all members of our research team at the start of the study, we can design an appropriate work that truly gets at what we are trying to study. It will also help us to contextualize our work for readers when we arrive at the point of dissemination, making sure that we clearly state (but do not overstate) the goals and context for our study.

This work by Brown & Dueñas is a wonderful read that will serve for some as a reminder to pause and refine the research paradigms of their current work, and for others as an introduction to a concept will re-frame how they view future work. Either way, this article is worth reading and distributing to your current research team. Considering our research paradigms will help us all make our research a bit more relatable.

Kelly M. Quesnelle, PhD
Professor and Chair
Department of Biomedical Sciences
School of Medicine Greenville
University of South Carolina
Member IAMSE Publications Committee