The applicability of generalisability and bias to health professions education's research

Lara Varpio, Bridget O'Brien, Charlotte E. Rees, Lynn Monrouxe, Rola Ajjawi, Elise Paradis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Context: Research in health professions education (HPE) spans an array of topics and draws from a diversity of research domains, which brings richness to our understanding of complex phenomena and challenges us to appreciate different approaches to studying them. To fully appreciate and benefit from this diversity, scholars in HPE must be savvy to the hallmarks of rigour that differ across research approaches. In the absence of such recognition, the valuable contributions of many high-quality studies risk being undermined. Methods: In this article, we delve into two constructs---generalisability and bias--that are commonly invoked in discussions of rigour in health professions education research. We inspect the meaning and applicability of these constructs to research conducted from different paradigms (i.e., positivist and constructivist) and orientations (i.e., objectivist and subjectivist) and then describe how scholars can demonstrate rigour when these constructs do not align with the assumptions underpinning their research. Conclusions: A one-size-fits-all approach to evaluating the rigour of HPE research disadvantages some approaches and threatens to reduce the diversity of research in our field. Generalisability and bias are two examples of problematic constructs within paradigms that embrace subjectivity; others are equally problematic. As a way forward, we encourage HPE scholars to inspect their assumptions about the nature and purpose of research—both to defend research rigour in their own studies and to ensure they apply standards of rigour that align with research they read and review.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages7
JournalMedical Education
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 11 Aug 2020

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