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“ There's so much to study!” Medical students' perceptions of curriculum relevance and subject balance: results of a survey of three medical schools. Ewan Gray (MPH student) Paula Lorgelly (Senior Lecturer in Health Economics) Section of Public Health and Health Policy.

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There's so much to study!”Medical students' perceptions of curriculum relevance and subject balance: results of a survey of three medical schools

Ewan Gray (MPH student)

Paula Lorgelly (Senior Lecturer in Health Economics)

Section of Public Health and Health Policy


Curricular dilemma

As early as 1876 Thomas Huxley, the famous biologist and educationalist, observed the medical student…

“risked breaking his intellectual back”

…due to the overloading of knowledge considered to be required.

Huxley advocated pre-clinical training in the basic sciences of his day.

Curricular Dilemma


The modern medical course
The modern medical course educationalist, observed the medical student…


Tomorrow s doctors
Tomorrow’s doctors educationalist, observed the medical student…


The scottish doctor
The Scottish Doctor educationalist, observed the medical student…


Students setting the curriculum
Students setting the curriculum?! educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • The decision process in setting the curriculum rarely has strong student involvement despite their obvious stakeholder interest and the evidence of potential benefit in promoting academic success

  • While students may not be able to comment on the professional/vocational relevance of the content they are uniquely aware of the academic relevance

  • Student feedback systems popular in many academic departments


Research questions
Research Questions educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • Would students re-balance the curriculum teaching and learning time among different subject areas?

    • Which areas would be prioritised more and which less?

  • Do differences exist in the expressed preferences of students of:

    • Different universities?

    • Different year groups?


Research methods
Research Methods educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • An online questionnaire of medical students

    • Consisting of questions about:

      • Demographic information

      • Knowledge of health economics

      • Views/opinions of health economics and the medical curriculum.

  • Offered to all medical students at Glasgow, Newcastle and East Anglia via linked email

    • Part of the ‘Medical Students and Health Economics: What do they know? What do they need to know?’ study


Survey monkey page 1
Survey Monkey – Page 1 educationalist, observed the medical student…


Specific questions 1
Specific Questions (1) educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • Which of these areas do you feel require more teaching/learning time? (please tick all that apply)

    • Anatomy and Physiology

    • Pathology

    • Microbiology

    • Pharmacology

    • Clinical Medicine

    • Clinical Skills (e.g. Examination Technique)

    • Surgery

    • Public Health

    • Personal and Professional Development


Specific questions 2
Specific Questions (2) educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • In what areas would you be willing to sacrifice teaching/learning time in order to make room for new material in the course (not necessarily health economics)? (please tick all that apply)

    • Anatomy and Physiology

    • Pathology

    • Microbiology

    • Pharmacology

    • Clinical Medicine

    • Clinical Skills (e.g. Examination Technique)

    • Surgery

    • Public Health

    • Personal and Professional Development


Qualitative data collection
Qualitative data collection educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • Do you feel that the inclusion of broader health topics places too great a strain or burden on medical students?

    • Open-ended question


Response rates
Response Rates educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • 578 students accessed the survey

    • Glasgow – 166 responses – 12.7%

    • Newcastle – 268 responses – 17%

    • East Anglia – 144 responses – 21.5%

  • 423 completed the survey sufficiently for analysis (answered 5 or more multiple choice questions)


University by year statistics
University by Year statistics educationalist, observed the medical student…


Desire for more teaching
Desire for more teaching educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • General preference for more teaching of:

    • Pharmacology

    • Anatomy & Physiology

    • Pathology

    • Surgery

  • Limited support for more teaching of the non-clinical subjects

    • Personal & professional development

    • Public Health


Teaching desires by university
Teaching desires by university educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • Considerable differences across universities

    • Glasgow and UEA want more pharmacology, more microbiology and more anatomy/physiology relative to Newcastle [pure science]

    • Glasgow and Newcastle more clinical medicine and clinical skills [clinical subjects]

    • Glasgow wants more public health

    • UEA wants more pathology


p=0.917 educationalist, observed the medical student…

p=0.003

p=0.091

p=0.018

p<0.001

p<0.001

p<0.001

p<0.001

p<0.001


Teaching desires by year of study
Teaching desires by year of study educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • Few differences across year of study (excluded intercalated year)

    • Year 5 want more pharmacology, and (marginally) more microbiology


p=0.563 educationalist, observed the medical student…

p=0.654

p=0.278

p=0.840

p=0.481

p<0.001

p=0.063

p=0.463

p=0.256


Teaching desires by year of study glasgow university only
Teaching desires by year of study: educationalist, observed the medical student…Glasgow University only

  • Greater number of significant differences across year of study for Glasgow University students

    • Year 5 students want more microbiology

    • Year 4 & 5 students want more anatomy/physiology

    • Year 3 students want more public health (marginal)

    • Gradient with respect to pharmacology, increases as year increases (marginal)


p=0.600 educationalist, observed the medical student…

p=0.087

p=0.281

p=0.263

p=0.374

p=0.097

p=0.005

p=0.230

p=0.004


Willingness to sacrifice
Willingness to sacrifice educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • More than half of all respondents are willing to sacrifice teaching of personal and professional development to make room for new material

  • While one third are willing to sacrifice public health teaching


Sacrifice by university
Sacrifice by university educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • UEA and Newcastle more willing than Glasgow to sacrifice public health teaching

  • UEA and Glasgow more willing than Newcastle to sacrifice surgery and clinical medicine

  • Newcastle and Glasgow more willing than UEA to sacrifice microbiology


p=0.454 educationalist, observed the medical student…

p=0.047

p=0.042

p=0.117

p=0.027

p=0.595

p=0.027

p=0.855

p=0.105


Sacrifice by year of study
Sacrifice by year of study educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • Steep gradient with respect to personal and professional development, willingness to sacrifice increases with year of study

  • Year 2 students willing to sacrifice pharmacology, while year 5 students didn’t indicate this at all


p=0.001 educationalist, observed the medical student…

p=0.696

p=0.711

p=0.183

p=0.503

p=0.021

p=0.189

p=0.123

p=0.737


Sacrifice by year of study glasgow university only
Sacrifice by year of study: educationalist, observed the medical student…Glasgow University only

  • No significant differences across the various years of study for the Glasgow sample

  • Year 1 students are (marginally) less willing to sacrifice personal and professional development compared to the more advanced students


p=0.096 educationalist, observed the medical student…

p=0.970

p=0.667

p=0.156

p=0.286

p=0.685

p=0.117

p=0.156

p=0.252


Measure of expression of preference
Measure of expression of preference educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • Asked to tick all that applied

  • 12% expressed no desire for more teaching, more than half (59%) wished for more teaching in 2 to 4 areas

  • Average amount of more teaching, 3.14

  • Differed significantly between years 1-3 (µ=2.98) and years 4-5 (µ=3.38), suggesting some experience effect

  • Little difference in aggregate willingness to sacrifice teaching across the two year groups


Qualitative responses
Qualitative responses educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • Do you feel that the inclusion of broader health topics places too great a strain or burden on medical students?

    • 252 (60%) commented

    • 64 said yes

    • 147 said no

    • 41 said maybe


Are broader aspects of health a burden yes
Are broader aspects of health a burden? – YES educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • “Yes. It means that there is a lot to learn and it is very hard to see what should be sacrificed”

  • “Yes, it is difficult to tie all the interlinking ideas together and often comes at the expense of more 'core sciences' for which we are often criticised”

  • “I cannot deny that it will be a burden. But I think broader health topics are important, outweigh the fact that it will become a burden”

  • “Inclusion of any topic adds burden - but this is tolerable when it's relevant”


Are broader aspects of health a burden no
Are broader aspects of health a burden? – NO educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • “No, but I don't think that they should be treated as core subjects so students are able to prioritise”

  • “No, we get very little teaching anyway so a couple of hours lectures on this topic would be very interesting and beneficial”

  • “No. They should realise when they choose medicine that its a high stress/responsibility career path”

  • “No but it is pretty dull”


Discussion 1
Discussion (1) educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • General preference for more teaching/learning time dedicated to science subjects

    • But is this a reflection of enjoyment, need or difficulty?

    • Do students want more pharmacology, in terms of greater coverage or more hours on the same topic?

  • Evidence of differences across universities and year groups

    • To understand why necessary to review all course documentation


Discussion 2
Discussion (2) educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • Great willingness to sacrifice learning/teaching time on personal and professional development to make way for new material

  • Similar across universities and year groups, although year 5 students are especially willing to sacrifice personal and professional development


Discussion 3
Discussion (3) educationalist, observed the medical student…

  • Aggregate found evidence of an experience effect, year 4 and 5 students may be better placed to give views of curriculum design

  • What would this mean for Glasgow

    • More anatomy/physiology, pharmacology, microbiology and pathology at the expense of personal and professional development and possibly public health

    • More science less broader health issues


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