Author Archives: Robert Wears

The Need for Pluralism

Sep 14, 2012, 3:51 PM, Posted by Kathleen Sutcliffe, Robert Wears

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Human Capital Blog is asking diverse experts: What is and isn’t working in health professions education today, and what changes are needed to prepare a high-functioning health and health care workforce that can meet the country’s current and emerging needs? This post is by RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research recipients Robert L. Wears, MD, PhD, a professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Florida, and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, PhD, The Gilbert and Ruth Whitaker Professor of Business Administration at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business.

file Kathleen M. Sutcliffe

There are many aspects to the problem of what is or is not working in health professionals’ education today, and the changes needed to address them.  From our view as researchers studying issues of safety, resilience, and managing for the unexpected, some of the more important are that health professionals’ education is seriously deficient in the social sciences; is limited almost exclusively to largely positivist ideas about what counts as scientific activity; and is almost totally devoid of the humanities. 

file Robert L. Wears

None of these deficiencies are new, and that is what concerns us.  The lack of engagement with the sciences of safety, and of human and organizational performance, has implications for practice, for safety, and for understanding and creating actionable knowledge.


With respect to practice, for example, without sufficient exposure to humanities and social sciences we risk socializing people to become authoritative but inhuman techno-nerds, even if they didn’t start out that way.  

With respect to safety, we risk training people in positivistic methods and research approaches that oversimplify and even miss local contextual specifics that create real threats to safety. 

With respect to understanding and knowledge creation, we risk training people to revere scientific and technical rationality and ‘objectivity’ at the expense or even denial of any sort of constructivist or interpretive understanding.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.