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Conceptualising and Teaching Biomedical Uncertainty to Medical Students: an Exploratory Qualitative Study

Lukšaitė, Eva; Fricker, RA; McKinley, RK; Dikomitis, Lisa

Conceptualising and Teaching Biomedical Uncertainty to Medical Students: an Exploratory Qualitative Study Thumbnail


RA Fricker

RK McKinley

Lisa Dikomitis


Introduction Certainty/uncertainty in medicine is a topic of popular debate. This study aims to understand how biomedical uncertainty is conceptualised by academic medical educators and how it is taught in a medical school in the UK. Methods This is an exploratory qualitative study grounded in ethnographic principles. This study is based on 10 observations of teaching sessions and seven semi-structured qualitative interviews with medical educators from various biomedical disciplines in a UK medical school. The data set was analysed via a thematic analysis. Results Four main themes were identified after analysis: (1) ubiquity of biomedical uncertainty, (2) constraints to teaching biomedical uncertainty, (3) the ‘medic filter’ and (4) fluid distinction: core versus additional knowledge. While medical educators had differing understandings of how biomedical uncertainty is articulated in their disciplines, its presence was ubiquitous. This ubiquity did not translate into teaching due to time-constraints and assessment strategies. The ‘medic filter’ emerged as a strategy that educators employed to decide what to include in their teaching. They made distinctions between core and additional knowledge which were defined in varied ways across disciplines. Additional knowledge often encapsulated biomedical uncertainty. Discussion Even though the perspective that knowledge is socially constructed is not novel in medical education, it is neither universally valued nor universally applied. Moving beyond situativity theories and into broader debates in social sciences provides new opportunities to discuss the nature of scientific knowledge in medical education. We invite a move away from situated learning to situated knowledge.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Nov 17, 2021
Online Publication Date Jan 17, 2022
Publication Date 2022-04
Publicly Available Date May 30, 2023
Journal Medical Science Educator
Electronic ISSN 2156-8650
Publisher Springer Verlag
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 32
Pages 371–378
Keywords Biomedicine; Interviews; Medical; curriculum; Situated knowledge; Qualitative research
Publisher URL


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