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CMAJ. 1998 October 6; 159(7): 765–769.
PMCID: PMC1232732

Clinical teachers as humanistic caregivers and educators: perceptions of senior clerks and second-year residents

Abstract

BACKGROUND: The acquisition and nurturing of humanistic skills and attitudes constitute an important aim of medical education. In order to assess how conducive the physician-learning environment is to the acquisition of these skills, the authors determined the extent to which clinical teachers are perceived by their trainees as humanistic with patients and students, and they explored whether undergraduate and graduate students share the same perceptions. METHODS: A mail survey was conducted in 1994/95 of all senior clerks and second-year residents at Laval University, University of Montreal and University of Sherbrooke medical schools. Of 774 trainees, 259 senior clerks and 238 second-year residents returned the questionnaire, for an overall response rate of 64%. Students' perceptions of their teachers were measured on a 6-point Likert scale applied to statements about teachers' attitudes toward the patient (5 items) and toward the student (5 items). RESULTS: On average, only 46% of the senior clerks agreed that their teachers displayed the humanistic characteristics of interest. They were especially critical of their teachers' apparent lack of sensitivity, with as many as 3 out of 4 declaring that their teachers seemed to be unconcerned about how patients adapt psychologically to their illnesses (75% of clerks) and that their teachers did not try to understand students' difficulties (78%) or to support students who have difficulties (77%). Compared with the clerks, the second-year residents were significantly less critical, those with negative perceptions varying from 27% to 58%, 40% on average. Except for this difference, their pattern of responses from one item to another was similar. INTERPRETATION: This study suggests the existence of a substantial gap between what medical trainees are expected to learn and what they actually experience over the course of their training. Because such a gap could represent a significant barrier to the acquisition of important skills, more and urgent research is needed to understand better the factors influencing students' perceptions.


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