A model of clinical problem-based learning for clinical attachments in medicine

Derek C. Macallan, Andrew Kent, Sandra C. Holmes, Elizabeth A. Farmer, Peter McCrorie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Context: Problem-based learning (PBL) has been widely adopted in medical curricula for early-years training, but its use during clinical attachments has not been extensively explored.Objectives: This study aimed to develop and evaluate a new model, 'clinical problem-based learning' (CPBL), to promote learning skills,attitudes and knowledge during clinical attachments. Methods: The CPBL model takes the principles of PBL and applies them to learning during clinical attachments. Real patient encounters are guided by a list of broadly defined case types to ensure curriculum coverage.By discussing history taking and examination in the context of differential diagnosis and problem listing, students generate learning objectives relating to clinical skills, disease mechanisms and clinical management. These are explored through self-directed learning before the second tutorial, in which the tutor takes the role of 'expert', demonstrating how learned material translates into clinical practice.We evaluated which components contributed most to the success of the model using semi-structured questionnaires, focus groups and a consensus (Delphi process) method. Results: Students found CPBL a positive learning experience. Identification of suitable cases for discussion was readily achieved,although follow-up was sometimes difficult.The tutor's level of expertise and a nonthreatening learning environment, conducive to student questioning, were highly rated contributors to successful CPBL. Comments reinforced the view that CPBL is a parallel teaching approach that helps structure the teaching week, but does not replace traditional bedside teaching.Conclusions: Clinical problem-based learning was well received in clinical placements.Key elements were the learning interval,the involvement of expert tutors and a non-threatening learning environment.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)799-807
Number of pages9
JournalMedical Education
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2009


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