28 December 2010
Workplace learning in undergraduate medical education has predominantly been studied from a cognitive perspective, despite its complex contextual characteristics, which influence medical students’ learning experiences in such a way that explanation in terms of knowledge, skills, attitudes and single determinants of instructiveness is unlikely to suffice. There is also a paucity of research which, from a perspective other than the cognitive or descriptive one, investigates student learning in general practice settings, which are often characterised as powerful learning environments. In this study we took a socio-cultural perspective to clarify how students learn during a general practice clerkship and to construct a conceptual framework that captures this type of learning. Our analysis of group interviews with 44 fifth-year undergraduate medical students about their learning experiences in general practice showed that students needed developmental space to be able to learn and develop their professional identity. This space results from the intertwinement of workplace context, personal and professional interactions and emotions such as feeling respected and self-confident. These forces framed students’ participation in patient consultations, conversations with supervisors about consultations and students’ observation of supervisors, thereby determining the opportunities afforded to students to mind their learning. These findings resonate with other conceptual frameworks and learning theories. In order to refine our interpretation, we recommend that further research from a socio-cultural perspective should also explore other aspects of workplace learning in medical education.