Should medical students have earlier contact with patients?

October 07, 2004

Allowing medical students to interact with patients earlier in their medical course would better prepare them for their future role as a doctor, suggest researchers in this week's BMJ.

Traditionally, the foundation years of medical education have grounded students in biomedical sciences but offered little, if any, clinical exposure.

A group of 64 medical students, staff, and curriculum leaders from three UK medical schools discussed the question: "What can experience add to early medical education?" *

Without early experience, students felt the curriculum was socially isolating and divorced from clinical practice. Students described entering the clinical environment in year 3 as "being thrown in at the deep end."

Both staff and students agreed that interacting with people would give them a better understanding of "the human condition," and would relieve their "tunnel vision" in a way problem based learning did not.

Other likely benefits of early experience included greater motivation and confidence, greater social and self awareness, and more rounded and practically relevant theoretical understanding.

Viewing medical education as a process of socialisation - into the population that the future doctors will serve, and the profession they will join - helps redefine the task of medical education in the 21st century, conclude the authors.
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BMJ

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