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A Roadmap for Grantsmanship in Medical Education: Applying the SACRED Principles

If there is one constant challenge in the way we innovate, evolve, and assess continuing medical education, it might be the simple reality that these efforts take resources. In response, medical educators often spend upwards of half of their time trying to find the resources that will allow them to develop, pilot, and produce the educational interventions that they envision. This leads the community down two paths: 1) make do with the resources that are available, or 2) commit the time to ‘perfect’ ones proposal writing and grantsmanship such that funding can be secured and innovation can be pursued.

On the other hand, there are countless organizations tasked with the alternative challenge – they are committed to funding medical education and research that will drive change in healthcare, but they struggle to effectively tie their funding decisions to a rationale assessment of which proposals are most likely to be successful. As a result, there may not be a high fidelity in their funding allocation and over time this inefficiency leads to a depletion of funding and an exacerbation of the problems define in paragraph one.

So how might we overcome theseCME_Grant_Writing challenges such that educational providers may more effectively conceive and construct grant proposals that tell the proper story and such that funding organizations may review, analyze, and fund proposals that they can have confidence will work?

For nearly a decade I have been exploring and promoting a SACRED model for grantsmanship to identify and simplify the critical information needed to be shared. In this post I would like to briefly introduce this model more broadly. Since I originally conceived of the model in ~2004 I have been constantly looking for evidence of its success and/or shortcomings and as I write this post I can whole-heartily support its efficacy…and I can now provide countless examples of how the model has been employed successfully to increase a provider’s funding rates and to simplify a funder’s review and the fidelity of their decisions.

Moreover, in reviewing and funding thousands of educational grant proposals myself, and in successfully writing dozens and dozens of educational grant proposal over the past decade I have come to learn that while the SACRED model serves as a valuable roadmap, success ultimately lies in how the roadmap is employed. I will try to write about this in subsequent posts. For now, let me simply introduce the elements of the roadmap.

The critical elements of grantsmanship in medical education are as follows:

  1. Scientific Rationale: is there expertise and sophistication in the linkages between the identified clinical gaps educational needs,
  2. Audience: more specifically how have you explored and defined the needs and preference of the intended audience of learners (Do you have unique access or experience with these learners?),
  3. Compliance models and track record (self-explanatory for those in continuing medical education),
  4. Results: alignment of assessment methodology and one’s organizational track record,
  5. Educational Design: tell a concise and evidence-based story about the intended interventional models and one’s organizational track record, and
  6. Differentiation: provide a more detailed explanation of how the broader plan will be implemented and what makes your approach unique and valuable (funding justification is critical here).

Early on it was pointed out to me that the SACRED model could just as easily be renamed the SCARED model – and the irony of this is not lost on many. But since the approach is intended to make the planning and funding of innovative and effective medical education easier and less worrisome, I believe the SACRED moniker fits.

Having introduced the 6 key elements of the model, my hope is that you may begin to explore your internal grantsmanship models: do your proposals highlight and emphasize these elements? Or, do your review practices identify and deconstruct these elements? I believe that just this initial self-assessment will provide the community with a valuable exercise.

FWIW, I look forward to hearing what you think about the model, and I certainly look forward to hearing how the self-assessment goes! Feel free to contact me if you are immediately interested in a next level exploration or if you want to understand how to ‘move the needle’ with your internal processes.

At a minimum…I hope this helps all of us in some small way!


Written by

Brian is a research scientist and educational technologist. He helped transform Pfizer’s Medical Education Group and previously served in educational leadership roles at HealthAnswers, Inc.; Acumentis, LLC.; Cephalon; and Wyeth. He taught graduate medical education programs at Arcadia University for 10 years. Dr. McGowan recently authored the book "#socialQI: Simple Solutions for Improving Your Healthcare" and has been invited to speak internationally on the subject of information flow, technology, and learning in healthcare.

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