In a previous blog on WPBA, I observed there has been a culture shift in postgraduate medical education, from that of a time-served apprenticeship, to one of time-measured training. This observation arises from my doctoral research part of which involved an analysis of 20 years of policy relating to the training of doctors. I was interested in tracing the ways in which NHS and postgraduate training reform had ‘dismantled’ medical apprenticeship. My analysis led me to observe a gradual decoupling of ‘working’ and ‘training’. at least conceptually. To explain…
Historically, in a time-served apprenticeship, work was the curriculum for medical training; through engaging in increasingly complex work activity doctors made transitions to greater levels of responsibility. Supported by their ‘firms’, to greater or lesser extent, transitions were made on the basis of readiness to progress, in the eyes of those closest to their work activity. There are close parallels here with Lave and Wenger’s (1991) accounts of communities of practice, where newcomers to a community are invited to engage in the shared work of the communities they join. The goal of training, in this case, is full participation in the work of the community.
In more recent years, we have witnessed the move to a national curriculum for postgraduate training, expressed in terms of competences to be acquired, or outcomes to be evidenced. The modernized time-measured curriculum for medical education stipulates much more closely the anticipated length of time for each stage of training; those who do not progress at a predetermined point are at risk of being seen as ‘failing’. The tension here of course, is that certain posts may afford greater opportunities to learn than others, simply in terms of the scope and amount of ‘suitable’ work available. Failure to progress may be a failure of the workplace to support the development of the trainee. The ultimate goal of any stage of training is expressed here in terms of ‘sign off’; doctors in training have demonstrated the acquisition of pre-determined outcomes, competences, knowledge, skill or attitudes, however these are expressed. Those familiar with Sfard’s (1998) account of two metaphors for learning might see time-served apprenticeship in terms of ‘learning-as-participation’ and time-measured training as ‘learning-as-acquisition’.
Does this distinction matter, other than conceptually? I think it does. I believe that the postgraduate medical training curriculum introduced over the past 5 or 6 years got ‘lost in translation’. Ultimately, doctors, whatever stage they are in their career, learn through working: work is the curriculum. The challenge is ensuring that the amount, range and complexity of work activity undertaken is both within the trainee’s capability and stretches them to be more capable. One way to do that is to develop a curriculum map, that captures where they have been, where they are going and where they might go next. In this way, it is possible to make explicit and surface up the learning that arises while working and to make adjustments, where needed, to offer a richer learning journey (to keep the mapping metaphor going). The map does not need to be too prescriptive; there are, after all, many possible routes to the same destination. Some trainers have a natural sense of direction, have walked the journey with trainees on many occasions and only need check in, from time to time, to make sure they are both still on track. Others may prefer to plan the itinerary much more tightly, checking in on a regular basis that all is going according to plan. This kind of mapping process, overlaid on the workplace, had real potential to guide training. Unfortunately, the associated mechanics of the new curriculum models, workplace based assessments, compulsory ‘reflections’, log books, portfolios etc got in the way. These new ‘souvenirs’ from the journey too readily became the journey. 'Trainer-trainee' relationships became enacted through these tools of curriculum engagement. The training curriculum moved from being the trainees work, to additional work for the doctor in training.
So where next for postgraduate medical education? I take some comfort in the revised foundation curriculum, although I believe it has some way to go.
The move away from competences is encouraging, although the scuttle back to the security of outcomes statements is, for me at least, a missed opportunity. I think the discourse around EPAs (entrustable professional activities) is worth extending. It is much more meaningful to think in terms of what you are confident in delegating to a more junior colleague, than relying on the competences they have once demonstrated.
The move away from workplace based assessments to supervised learning events, conceptually at least, is also promising. The value of having a more knowledgeable other (in Vygotsky’s terms) observing your work and engaging in a meaningful dialogue about it has rich learning potential. I am not sure we need the forms to evidence these conversations have happened, but that is a topic for another blog perhaps.
Finally, the new curriculum revives 'the firm', placing much more emphasis on the professional wisdom of clinical supervisors, educational supervisors and the clinical team in terms of guidance, support and decisions about readiness to progress.