Award: A global leader in medical education research

By Crystal Mackay, MA'05

Lorelei Lingard’s love for language started early in her childhood when she and her mother, who was a high school English teacher, would play Scrabble at the kitchen table.

“I grew up in a house where language was really important – if you wanted to put a word on the board, you had to use that word in a sentence and you had to use it properly,” Lingard said, laughing.

“Eventually, that led me to the study of language in University. I wanted to know why people spoke the way they did, why it mattered, and how they learned to do it, and research seemed to be the way to do that.”

This curiosity about language led to a career studying the uses of language in the health care setting and how that translates to medical education.

This important career-spanning work has earned her the 2018 Karolinska Institutet Prize for Research in Medical Education. The prestigious international Prize recognizes high-quality research in the field, with the aim of promoting long-term improvements in educational practice. The Prize is presented every second year by the Karolinska Institutet, one of the world’s leading medical universities.

“She has taught me the value of collaboration, the importance of self-compassion and the benefit of seeking to understand rather than to criticize,” said Dr. Taryn Taylor, MD, PhD, assistant professor in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, who worked closely with Lingard on her postgraduate research. “I can think of no one more deserving of this recognition.”

Lingard will receive the award and a prize amount of €50,000 at a ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden, on October 11, 2018.

“I was absolutely delighted, surprised and honoured to learn that I had received the Karolinksa prize this year,” said Lingard, who is also the first woman to receive the Prize.

Lingard, PhD, professor in the Department of Medicine,  Director of the Centre for Education Research & Innovation (CERI) at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and cross-appointed to the Faculty of Education at Western, studies how health professionals use language to work together in teams to provide patient care, and how that influences clinical learning. She and her research team have studied expert and novice team members in settings as diverse as the operating room, the critical care unit, the transplant unit, the heart function clinic and the inpatient medicine ward.

“Lorelei Lingard of course has a peerless track record of high-quality influential research in health professions education. As a researcher in our field, she is among the giants,” said Dr. Chris Watling, associate dean, Postgraduate Medical Education and scientist at CERI. “What really sets her apart is her remarkable generosity as a mentor. For me, her mentorship changed the course of my professional life.  We are so very lucky to have her at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, and I am grateful every day for her inspiration.”

Her work helps to guide how medical schools teach and assess their learners and informs what medical schools value as important in medical training. This helps shape medical education policy in Canada and internationally; and as a result of her work, the role of language on the health care team is emphasized in today’s clinical training, which was not always the case.

“My research asks, what does language make possible in a team, and what does it constrain? As it turns out, language does many things that are critical for medical education and for care delivery. As a consequence of my research, we now pay systematic and critical attention to how clinical teams communicate with each other,” Lingard explains.

Because her research centres on how teams use language in health care, her work has also inspired the recognition that teamwork is essential to how trainees learn in the medical education setting.

“It is very rare for health care to be delivered by a single provider to a single patient. Most of what happens in health care does so with a team of individuals supporting a patient and their family,” said Lingard. “That being the case, it becomes very important to ask about language. If you think about what teams do to be able to work together, they do all of that through language.”

Lingard says this kind of research didn’t exist twenty years ago when she first began in this field. She says at the time, this kind of qualitative, social science based, medical education research was considered to be a little bit radical. The Karolinska prize is as much about the innovative nature of the research as it is about her as a researcher.

“I think being recognized with this prize will free me up to do things that are even more radical! That's what I hope is in store for me in the next ten years of my career,” she said.

Dr. Javeed Sukhera, assistant professor in Psychiatry works alongside Dr. Lingard in his research on implicit bias training in health care and says she is a visionary researcher and also a powerful mentor.

“Dr. Lingard encouraged me to look beyond day-to-day educational problems and see the big picture,” he said. “I feel eternally grateful for her mentorship, coaching, critique, and support. She helps her mentees to be better because she reminds us that we already have everything it takes to succeed.”

Many others whose work intersects with Lingard’s as part of CERI, echo Dr. Sukhera’s sentiments.

“Lorelei is an amazing mentor.  While I had a highly successful career prior to working with Lorelei, through her mentorship I have grown exponentially,” said Dr. Mark Goldszmidt, associate director and scientist at CERI and professor in the Department of Medicine. “I always knew what I wanted to do research on, but it was not until I began working with Lorelei that I was able to hone those ideas into a program of research.  Through her support, I not only learned to do research, I also learned the love of writing well.  Lorelei also inspires me in my work with students, as I strive to pay it forward.”

Sayra Cristancho, PhD, scientist at CERI and assistant professor of Surgery and Medical Biophysics says it is Lingard’s approach to ‘mentoring through questioning’ which has had the greatest impact on her. “Despite her role, asking questions is her default approach,” said Cristancho. “As a researcher, her questions unearth assumptions. As a leader, her questions provide perspective. As a mentor, her questions uncover possibilities.”