Exploring perspectives on health professions education scholarship units from sub-Saharan Africa

Susan van Schalkwyk*, Bridget C. O'Brien, Cees van der Vleuten, Tim J. Wilkinson, Ilse Meyer, Anna M. S. Schmutz, Lara Varpio

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Introduction There has been a marked increase in institutional structures developed to support health professions education scholarship recently. These health professions education scholarship units (HPESUs) engage in a diverse range of activities. Previous work provided insight into factors that influence the functioning of such units, but data from European, Asian, Latin American, and African contexts was absent, potentially leading to a single world-view informing international standards for HPESUs. This aim of this study was to explore perspectives from sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in response to this omission. Methods Situated within an interpretivist paradigm, the research team conducted semi-structured interviews with nine HPESU leaders in SSA, exploring how participants experienced and understood the functioning of their units. Despite efforts to have representation from across the region, most participants were from South Africa. The researchers analysed data thematically using the theory of institutional logics as an analytical frame. Results Several aspects of the HPESUs aligned with the previously identified logics of academic research, service and teaching; and of a cohesive education continuum. By contrast, leaders described financial sustainability as a more prominent logic than financial accountability. Discussion The similarities identified in this study may reflect isomorphism-a process which sees institutions within a similar field becoming more alike, particularly as newer institutions seek to acquire legitimacy within that field. An important caveat, however, is that isomorphism tends to occur across similar institutional contexts, which was not the case in this study. Understanding these differences is key as these HPESUs move to foster scholarship that can respond to the region's unique context.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-366
Number of pages8
JournalPerspectives on Medical Education
Issue number6
Early online date15 Sept 2020
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2020


  • Health professions education
  • Scholarship
  • Sub-Saharan Africa


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