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Students' perceptions about the transition to the clinical phase of a medical curriculum with preclinical patient contacts; a focus group study

1 , , 2 , 3

BMC Medical Education

BioMed Central

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      Studies have shown that medical students experience the transition between preclinical and clinical training as a stressful period. They are generally frustrated by their inability to apply their knowledge to solve clinical problems in practice. Preclinical patient contacts may offer a solution to this 'shock of practice.' We studied how students who have had preclinical patient contacts perceive the transition from preclinical to clinical training and, more specifically, how they value these early patient contacts as preparation for learning in clinical practice.


      A purposive sample of 21 students participated in three focus groups which met twice during their first weeks of clinical clerkships. The interviews were recorded and transcribed literally. Qualitative content analysis of the transcriptions was performed.


      According to the students, working in clinical practice was enjoyable, motivated them to study and helped them to develop non-analytical reasoning skills. The students experienced stress due to increased working hours and work load, uncertainty as to what was expected of them and self-perceived lack of knowledge. They did not experience a major gap between the preclinical and clinical phase and felt well prepared for the clerkships. The preclinical patient contacts were considered to be instrumental in this.


      Early patient contacts seem to ameliorate the shock of practice and prepare students for clinical work. The problems mentioned by the students in this study are mainly related to the socialisation process. The results of this study have to be validated by quantitative research.

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      Most cited references 20

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      Checklists for improving rigour in qualitative research: a case of the tail wagging the dog?

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        What every teacher needs to know about clinical reasoning.

         Kevin Eva (2004)
        One of the core tasks assigned to clinical teachers is to enable students to sort through a cluster of features presented by a patient and accurately assign a diagnostic label, with the development of an appropriate treatment strategy being the end goal. Over the last 30 years there has been considerable debate within the health sciences education literature regarding the model that best describes how expert clinicians generate diagnostic decisions. The purpose of this essay is to provide a review of the research literature on clinical reasoning for frontline clinical teachers. The strengths and weaknesses of different approaches to clinical reasoning will be examined using one of the core divides between various models (that of analytic (i.e. conscious/controlled) versus non-analytic (i.e. unconscious/automatic) reasoning strategies) as an orienting framework. Recent work suggests that clinical teachers should stress the importance of both forms of reasoning, thereby enabling students to marshal reasoning processes in a flexible and context-specific manner. Specific implications are drawn from this overview for clinical teachers.
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          How can experience in clinical and community settings contribute to early medical education? A BEME systematic review.

          Review period January 1992-December 2001. Final analysis July 2004-January 2005. BACKGROUND AND REVIEW CONTEXT: There has been no rigorous systematic review of the outcomes of early exposure to clinical and community settings in medical education. OBJECTIVES OF REVIEW: Identify published empirical evidence of the effects of early experience in medical education, analyse it, and synthesize conclusions from it. Identify the strengths and limitations of the research effort to date, and identify objectives for future research. Ovid search of: BEI, ERIC, Medline, CINAHL and EMBASE Additional electronic searches of: Psychinfo, Timelit, EBM reviews, SIGLE, and the Cochrane databases. Hand-searches of:Medical Education, Medical Teacher, Academic Medicine, Teaching and Learning in Medicine, Advances in Health Sciences Education, Journal of Educational Psychology. Authentic (real as opposed to simulated) human contact in a social or clinical context that enhances learning of health, illness and/or disease, and the role of the health professional. Early: What would traditionally have been regarded as the preclinical phase, usually the first 2 years. Inclusions: All empirical studies (verifiable, observational data) of early experience in the basic education of health professionals, whatever their design or methodology, including papers not in English. Evidence from other health care professions that could be applied to medicine was included. Not empirical; not early; post-basic; simulated rather than 'authentic' experience. Careful validation of selection processes. Coding by two reviewers onto an extensively modified version of the standard BEME coding sheet. Accumulation into an Access database. Secondary coding and synthesis of an interpretation. A total of 73 studies met the selection criteria and yielded 277 educational outcomes; 116 of those outcomes (from 38 studies) were rated strong and important enough to include in a narrative synthesis of results; 76% of those outcomes were from descriptive studies and 24% from comparative studies. Early experience motivated and satisfied students of the health professions and helped them acclimatize to clinical environments, develop professionally, interact with patients with more confidence and less stress, develop self-reflection and appraisal skill, and develop a professional identity. It strengthened their learning and made it more real and relevant to clinical practice. It helped students learn about the structure and function of the healthcare system, and about preventive care and the role of health professionals. It supported the learning of both biomedical and behavioural/social sciences and helped students acquire communication and basic clinical skills. There were outcomes for beneficiaries other than students, including teachers, patients, populations, organizations and specialties. Early experience increased recruitment to primary care/rural medical practice, though mainly in US studies which introduced it for that specific purpose as part of a complex intervention. Early experience helps medical students socialize to their chosen profession. It helps them acquire a range of subject matter and makes their learning more real and relevant. It has potential benefits for other stakeholders, notably teachers and patients. It can influence career choices.

            Author and article information

            [1 ]School for Public Health and Primary Care (CAPHRI), Department of General Practice, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands
            [2 ]Skills lab, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands
            [3 ]Institute for Education, Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, the Netherlands
            BMC Med Educ
            BMC Medical Education
            BioMed Central
            5 April 2010
            : 10
            : 28
            Copyright ©2010 Godefrooij et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd.

            This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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