Educational Research-based Ph.D. Tracks

Educational research-based Ph.D. degrees are offered in each of the Ph.D. disciplines.  Please visit the program website for additional information on the degree.

PhD in Anatomy & Cell Biology - Education Track
Please follow the links for further information on this program.

Rationale for Education Track: The Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology currently offers a 90 credit hour PhD program that prepares students for careers in cutting-edge biomedical research.  The Department has developed a separate PhD track that will prepare students for careers in anatomical teaching and educational research.  This new career track is justified by the growing demand at the nation's health professional schools for highly qualified educators in the anatomical sciences.  As classically-trained anatomists retire and leave the workforce, they are not being replaced by newly-minted PhDs with the requisite training and career focus needed to maintain the teaching mission.  This new track will provide students who desire a career focus in education with extensive training in the anatomical sciences coupled with sufficient teaching experience to be fully prepared to assume major educational responsibilities upon graduation.  Equally important, students in this track will be trained to conduct rigorous educational research, culminating in a doctoral dissertation that meets the academic standards of Indiana University.

Goal of Education Track: To produce a cadre of doctoral-level anatomy educators who are capable of teaching all of the anatomical disciplines to undergraduate, graduate, or professional students, and who are capable of producing the high-quality educational research and other scholarly work necessary for promotion and tenure. 

Education Track Overview: The Education Track curriculum requires a minimum of 90 credit hours-70 credits in required coursework and 20 credits in research.  The coursework is divided into two "core" areas, as well as statistics courses and free electives:

  • Biomedical Core (35 hours) - will provide rigorous training in the major biomedical disciplines of Gross Anatomy, Histology, Neuroscience, Cell Biology, and Physiology, as well as supervised and mentored teaching experiences with medical students and graduate students.
  • Education Core (18 hours) - will provide fundamentals of pedagogy and assessment, including educational research and scholarship.
  • Statistics Courses (8 hours) - will provide the statistical tools needed to properly design and evaluate educational research projects.
  • Free Electives (9 hours) - will provide the opportunity for further training in the biomedical sciences, education, or statistics.

For details, please visit the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology.

Why is the Education Track needed?

According to a recent survey, more than 80% of anatomy-related department chairs anticipate having "great" or "moderate" difficulty finding qualified gross anatomy teachers in the next five years (95 schools reporting).  A minority of these schools (37%) require graduate students to take gross anatomy.  Of the few students who do take gross anatomy, less than half intend to teach it during their careers.  Given these factors, it is projected that 190 graduate students who intend to teach gross anatomy will finish their training in the next few years.  However, the age distribution of the current faculty suggests that approximately 625 classically-trained PhD anatomists will retire in the next decade, resulting in a major deficit of qualified instructors.  Further exacerbating this shortfall, the Association of American Medical Colleges is recommending a 30% increase in medical class size by 2015.  Several states are even planning new medical schools.  Thus, it appears likely that the demand for gross anatomy teachers will far exceed the available supply.  Although the problem is most acute for gross anatomy, similar concerns apply to the anatomy teaching disciplines of embryology, histology, and neuroscience.  

The last three decades have witnessed fundamental changes in the way graduate students are trained as research priorities in anatomy departments have shifted to emphasize cellular and molecular biology.  The training of anatomy graduate students has followed suit.  No longer are students typically required to learn and teach the traditional anatomical subdisciplines to earn their PhDs.  Paradoxically, a doctorate in anatomy no longer guarantees any expert knowledge of anatomy.  The impending shortage of qualified anatomy teachers is a direct manifestation of this national shift in research priorities. 

Is the Education Track Anatomy PhD a "teaching" degree?

No.  The Education Track Anatomy PhD is first and foremost a research degree awarded for independent scholarship-like any other PhD.  We wish to emphasize that training qualified anatomy teachers, while important, is not the only rationale for the Education Track.  There is a growing recognition that medical education should be evaluated with the same rigor as medical science if we are to produce better MDs (see Educational epidemiology: applying population-based design and analytic approaches to study medical education. JAMA 292: 1044-1050, 2004).  Few basic science faculty members are qualified to conduct the necessary research, and the Education Track is unique in that it will prepare students to be qualified medical education researchers, as well as anatomy teachers.

What constitutes medical education research?

Medical education research uses analytical approaches and methodologies that are familiar to the "hard" sciences, like biomedicine, as well as research techniques that are commonly employed in the disciplines of sociology, anthropology, and psychology.  The particular methods used are matched to the kinds of research questions for which they are most appropriate.  Rigorous medical education research has many of the same features as biomedical research-the major conceptual difference being the outcome of interest (see: Feeling better: a comparison of medical research and education research. Educational Researcher 35: 24-29, 2006.)  Whereas biomedical research attempts to elucidate the underlying mechanism of some measurable biologic event (e.g., inflammation), medical education research seeks to understand the causal relationship between certain educational variables and measurable learning outcomes (e.g., improved diagnostic skills).  Both kinds of research are grounded in theory, are formulated to test hypotheses, contain dependent and independent variables, attempt to control for spurious results, employ appropriate research designs (e.g., case-control studies, prospective and retrospective cohort studies, randomized controlled studies, etc.) and are validated by inferential statistics.  In short, both kinds of research employ "the scientific method".  However, medical education research is not limited to these quantitative approaches alone, but can be supplemented and enriched with qualitative research methods drawn from the traditions of sociology and other "soft" sciences.  All students in the Education Track will be expected to pursue a hypothesis-driven educational research project that employs scientifically-sound methodologies in the mainstream of human subjects research.  The research project need not be restricted to anatomy teaching, but can delve into any aspect of medical education, including pre-professional education, undergraduate medical education, graduate medical education, or continuing medical education.     

Will the Education Track be a unique PhD program?

To the best of our knowledge, the Education Track Anatomy PhD is the first formally instituted program of its kind in the nation.  As such, it will help satisfy a growing demand for anatomists with expertise in medical education research. 

Contact Person

James J. Brokaw, PhD, MPH
Indiana University School of Medicine
635 Barnhill Drive
Medical Science 5035
Indianapolis, IN 46202
317-274-7495 (phone); 317-278-2040 (fax) 

IUSM Research

635 North Barnhill Drive, MS 207 | Indianapolis, IN 46202 | Ph: (317) 274-3441 | Fax: (317) 278-5241