Incentives for clinical teachers: On why their complex influences should lead us to proceed with caution

Katherine M. Wisener*, Erik W. Driessen, Cary Cuncic, Cassandra L. Hesse, Kevin W. Eva

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Introduction When medical education programs have difficulties recruiting or retaining clinical teachers, they often introduce incentives to help improve motivation. Previous research, however, has shown incentives can unfortunately have unintended consequences. When and why that is the case in the context of incentivizing clinical teachers remains unclear. The purposes of this study, therefore, were to understand what values and motivations influence teaching decisions; and to delve deeper into how teaching incentives have been perceived.

Methods An interpretive description methodology was used to improve understanding of the development and delivery of teaching incentives. A purposeful sampling strategy identified a heterogenous sample of clinical faculty teaching in undergraduate and postgraduate contexts. Sixteen semi-structured interviews were conducted and transcripts were analyzed using an iterative process to develop a thematic structure that accounts for general trends and individual variations.

Results Clinicians articulated interrelated and dynamic personal and environmental factors that had linear, dual-edged and inverted U-shaped impacts on their motivations towards teaching. Barriers were frequently rationalized away, but cumulative barriers often led to teaching attrition. Clinical teachers were motivated when they felt valued and connected to their learners, peers, leadership, and/or the medical education community. While incentives aimed at producing these connections could be perceived as supportive, they could also negatively impact motivation if they were impersonal, inequitable, inefficient, or poorly framed.

Discussion/Conclusion These findings reinforce the literature suggesting that it is necessary to proceed with caution when labeling any particular factor as a motivator or barrier to teaching. They take us deeper, however, towards understanding how and why clinical teachers' perceptions are unique, dynamic and fluid. Incentive schemes can be beneficial for teacher recruitment and retention, but must be designed with nuance that takes into account what makes clinicians feel valued if the strategy is to do more good than harm.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)614-624
Number of pages11
JournalMedical Education
Issue number5
Early online date9 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - May 2021



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