How do clinicians become teachers? A communities of practice perspective

P. Cantillon*, M. D'Eath, W. De Grave, T. Dornan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


There is widespread acceptance that clinical educators should be trained to teach, but faculty development for clinicians is undermined by poor attendance and inadequate learning transfer. As a result there has been growing interest in situating teacher development initiatives in clinical workplaces. The relationship between becoming a teacher and clinical workplace contexts is under theorised. In response, this qualitative research set out to explore how clinicians become teachers in relation to clinical communities and institutions. Using communities of practice (CoP) as a conceptual framework this research employed the sensitising concepts of regimes of competence and vertical (managerial) and horizontal (professional) planes of accountability to elucidate structural influences on teacher development. Fourteen hospital physicians completed developmental timelines and underwent semi-structured interviews, exploring their development as teachers. Despite having very different developmental pathways, participants' descriptions of their teacher identities and practice that were remarkably congruent. Two types of CoP occupied the horizontal plane of accountability i.e. clinical teams (Firms) and communities of junior doctors (Fraternities). Participants reproduced teacher identities and practice that were congruent with CoPs' regimes of competence in order to gain recognition and legitimacy. Participants also constructed their teacher identities in relation to institutions in the vertical plane of accountability (i.e. hospitals and medical schools). Institutions that valued teaching supported the development of teacher identities along institutionally defined lines. Where teaching was less valued, clinicians adapted their teacher identities and practices to suit institutional norms. Becoming a clinical educator entails continually negotiating one's identity and practice between two potentially conflicting planes of accountability. Clinical CoPs are largely conservative and reproductive of teaching practice whereas accountability to institutions is potentially disruptive of teacher identity and practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)991-1008
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2016


  • Agency
  • Clinical teacher
  • Community of practice
  • Faculty development
  • Teacher identity
  • Planes of accountability
  • Structure

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