#14 Movin’ on up on the East side

Host: Lara Varpio

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Episode article

Milner, R. J., Flotte, T. R., & Thorndyke, L. E. (2022). Defining Scholarship for Today and Tomorrow. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, Publish Ahead of Print. https://doi.org/10.1097/CEH.0000000000000473

In this episode, the hosts take on a question that has long been debated in health professions education: What is scholarship? If you will ever be going up for promotion and/or tenure, this is an episode not to be missed. 


If you are teaching in a medical school or in an academic medical center, one of the defining features of your job description likely includes a statement about the requirement to participate in scholarship, to demonstrate scholarly excellence. But what does that mean? What is scholarship? 

This question is at the heart of this episode and of the paper discussed by the hosts therein. In the paper, entitled Defining Scholarship for Today and Tomorrow, the authors set out to answer 2 questions: “How can we defined scholarship to be consistent with the traditional notion and yet encompass the work of faculty engaged in the multiple missions of today’s academic health science institutions? How can we apply the definition of scholarship within institutional policies with flexibility to encompass the variety of scholarsly products of today and tomorrow? They did this work at their local institution–the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School.  




What is scholarship? 

The authors point out that the debates about scholarship dates back to 1990 when Boyer published his book, Scholarship Reconsidered, wherein he argued to expand the scope of the term scholarship to more broadly reflect the work of university faculty members. Boyer defined 4 domains of scholarship: 1. Discovery; 2. Integration; 3. Application; and 4. Teaching. While useful, this definition doesn’t define standards for the evaluation of scholarship. Enter Glassick who, in 1997, offered 6 standards for determining what counts as scholarly work. Scholarly work involves: 1. Clear goals; 2. Adequate preparation; 3. Appropriate methods; 4. Significant results; 5. Effective presentation; and 6. Reflective critique. We should also note that Boyer later added scholarship of engagement to the list of domains of scholarship, noting that scholarship should engage with communities and agencies outside of academia. 

Applying this conceptualization to a local context 

At the University of Massachusetts Chan Medical School, the Academic Personnel Policy (i.e., the criteria and procedures for appointment, promotion, and tenure) needed were outdated and to be revised (last update = 2006). They launched a working group to “develop a definition of scholarship which would reflect the historical context, national standards, and diverse nature of scholarship produced by the variety of health professions faculty” at the institution. The working group was comprised of a wide range of faculty (basic science and clinical; tenured and non), administrators, chairs of promotion committees. They collected reflections from faculty members, pulled the literature on scholarship, and surveyed statements on scholarship from other schools. They found common themes and revised them iteratively with the working group to obtain consensus. 

They propose that scholarship has 3 essential components: advancement of knowledge; dissemination; and impact. First, advancement of knowledge incorporates Boyer’s 4 domains of scholarship (i.e., the advancement of knowledge can happen via discovery, integration, application and teaching). Next, the list of what is accepted as evidence of dissemination is really robust. The usual suspects are there (i.e., peer reviwed journal articles, books, patents, new technologies), but so are things like expert testimony, curricula, innovations, clinical guidelines, preprints, policy statements and white papers. There’s also descriptions of digital scholarship dissemination via social media. Finally, the authors propose that impact should measure the influence of the academic’s work on a discipline, practice, or community. Therefore, for example, if the faculty member is in a context where public accountability is a key aspect of the mission, then that should also be a key aspect of the faculty member’s impact. If the faculty member is working in the area of education, then evaluation of that individual’s creation of, for example, a new curriculum should be by assessing student performance. 


It is important to also highlight the continuing professional development work that was undertaken to make sure that the faculty at University of Massachusetts Chan were aware of the new description of scholarship, aware of the accompanying components, and able to implement it. The authors describe how the faculty affairs office implemented educational sessions where actual promotion packages were de-identified and then shared with faculty members who worked together in small groups to debate the package and make decisions about the candidate’s promotion/tenure, The paper highlights that these educational sessions are really important because the promotion and tenure committee changes regularly and so the faculty members at large who could be asked to sit on the committee need to have this kind of training and experience. 


Sherbino, J., Melle, E. van, Bandiera, G., McEwen, J., LeBlanc, C., Bhanji, F., Frank, J. R., Regehr, G., & Snell, L. (2014). Education scholarship in emergency medicine part 1: Innovating and improving teaching and learning. Canadian Journal of Emergency Medicine, 16(S1), S1–S5. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1481803500003146

Sherbino, J., Arora, V. M., Van Melle, E., Rogers, R., Frank, J. R., & Holmboe, E. S. (2015). Criteria for social media-based scholarship in health professions education. Postgraduate Medical Journal, 91(1080), 551–555. https://doi.org/10.1136/postgradmedj-2015-133300


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