Renate Kahlke



My research focuses on what I see as a gap between what learners and professionals in the health professions know and what they do in their professional or educational practice.  There are many instances in which individuals believe one course of action to be best for their patients, but do something different when faced with the pressures and complexities of putting their knowledge into practice. At other moments, individuals act on what they know or believe despite many institutional or social barriers. Understanding the individual and social factors that bear on these moments requires engagement with multiple bodies of knowledge and theory, and plays out in a variety of contexts (see Kahlke & Eva, 2018 for examples).

For example, professionals’ Health Advocate role offers an example of one area where both learners and professionals struggle to enact their knowledge; by its very nature, advocacy requires that professionals “swim upstream” in order to overcome systemic barriers that limit access to high quality care. One of my current research projects looks at how medical trainees learn about advocacy in various contexts, including learning not to advocate. This research addresses the ways in which learning through socialization is often at odds with formal learning, and prevents learners and professionals from acting on their knowledge and beliefs about what’s best for their patients. Another study examines continuing professional development (CPD) and rural physicians’ willingness or intention to act on the various types of feedback that they receive when participating in a rural clinical coaching program. Physicians participating in CPD interventions frequently come up against social, systemic and cognitive barriers to enacting new knowledge, particularly since their practice contexts are often characterized by resistance to change.

Prior to my role at CHES, I completed a PhD at the University of Alberta in the Department of Educational Policy Studies. My dissertation explored how health professional educators construct unique and shared conceptions of “critical thinking,” within their various (and overlapping) personal and professional contexts. There is great confusion about what it means to “think critically” and individual educators espouse radically different understandings of critical thinking. My work shifts the academic focus away from developing one “right” definition of critical thinking in order to explore the multiple and flexible conceptions of critical thinking that exist both within and between professional groups. Differences in educators’ conceptions of critical thinking are not just semantic, but stem from the unique ways in which each educator makes sense of their experiences, and reflect a wide range of disciplinary traditions, normative assumptions, and values. Understanding these assumptions and values is key to understanding what educators see as important in their profession, and what “good thinking” might mean to them.

Most of my research questions are qualitative, though I believe there is value in many different approaches. I was fortunate to train at the University of Alberta, which is home to the International Institute for Qualitative Methodology. This context allowed me access people, courses, and workshops that led to rich conversations and were influential in developing my interest in debates about methodological adherence versus flexibility, and the extent to which quality criteria can cross methodological boundaries (see Kahlke, 2016, 2014). Most recently, I received funding to conduct an integrative review of interview elicitation methods (the use of pictures, videos, and other artefacts to prompt participants in interviews and enrich the conversation). This review will draw on elicitation techniques used in a variety of fields and offer researchers in the health professions new tools and frameworks through which to generate rich interview data.

Current Research Interests:

  • Qualitative research methodologies/methods
  • Continuing professional development
  • Health advocacy
  • Interprofessional education
  • Activity theory
  • Higher education policy and institutional theory
  • Community service learning
  • E-learning and instructional technologies