“You can’t always get what you want…”: economic thinking, constrained optimization and health professions education

J. A. Cleland, J. Foo, D. Ilic, S. Maloney, Y. You

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4 Citations (Scopus)


Every choice we make in health professions education has a cost, whether it be financial or otherwise; by choosing one action (e.g., integrating more simulation, studying more for a summative examination) we lose the opportunity to take an alternative action (e.g., freeing up time for other teaching, leisure time). Economics significantly shapes the way we behave and think as educators and learners and so there is increasing interest in using economic ways of thinking and approaches to examine and understand how choices are made, the influence of constraints and boundaries in educational decision making, and how costs are felt. Thus, in this article, we provide a brief historical overview of modern economics, to illustrate how the core concepts of economics—scarcity (and desirability), rationality, and optimization—developed over time. We explain the important concept of bounded rationality, which explains how individual, meso-factors and contextual factors influence decision making. We then consider the opportunities that these concepts afford for health professions education and research. We conclude by proposing that embracing economic thinking opens up new questions and new ways of approaching old questions which can add knowledge about how choice is enacted in contemporary health professions education.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13
Number of pages1163
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Economics
  • Health professions education
  • Optimization
  • Rationality
  • Scarcity

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