Context: Medical education is neither simple nor stable, and is highly contextualised. Hence, ways of perceiving multiple connections and complexity are fundamental when seeking to describe, understand and address concerns and questions related to change.
Proposal: In response to calls in the literature, we introduce three examples of contemporary organisational theory which can be used to understand and operationalise change within medical education. These theories, institutional logics, paradox theory and complexity leadership theory, respectively, are relatively unknown in medical education. However, they provide a way of making sense of the complexity of change creatively. Specifically, they cross-cut different levels of analysis and allow us to ‘zoom in’ to micro levels, as well as to ‘zoom out’ and connect what is happening at the individual level (the micro level) to what happens at a wider institutional and even national or international level (the macro level), thereby providing a means of understanding the interactions among individuals, teams, organisations and systems. We highlight the potential value of these theories, provide a brief discussion of the few studies that have used them in medical education, and then briefly critique each theory.
Conclusions: We hope that by drawing the attention of readers to the potential of these management theories, we can unlock some of the complexity of change in medical education, support new ways of thinking and open new avenues for research.