What conversation about curriculum should we be having?

There are tensions between all the relevant stakeholders in the training of health professionals, largely as a result of differences in expectations. These tensions can easily be seen between:

  1. The Department of Education and the Department of Health
  2. Academics at university and clinicians in the practice environment
  3. Government (usually rural) and private (usually urban) clinical contexts

Each of these groups (rightly) have different priorities with respect to the outcomes they value, and it’s very difficult to satisfy everyone. But what everyone seems to agree on is the nature of the conversation that we end up having. Except in very rare cases, the conversation about undergraduate health professions education almost always comes down to the acquisition of knowledge and skills; what do we want our new graduates to know and to do.

But this is the wrong conversation. In complex contexts and uncertain futures we can’t afford to focus our attention on what graduates know and do, but should rather pay attention to how they think and how they learn. Yet this is something that is almost universally absent from any conversation about the curriculum. As long as we’re talking about what content to include in the curriculum we’re missing the point that the biggest gap in our students’ repertoire when they graduate is that they don’t know how to think about learning.

Learning how to adapt to new and dynamic contexts is the most important skill that any new graduate can have, and yet this is probably the thing that we pay the least attention to.

By Michael Rowe

I'm a lecturer in the Department of Physiotherapy at the University of the Western Cape in Cape Town, South Africa. I'm interested in technology, education and healthcare and look for places where these things meet.