This course has been run twice in concurrent years and has been well received by students and the community. Overall students’ course ratings were 4.75/5.00 (n = 12). Specifically, students were very satisfied with writing and discussing their fieldnotes; they uniformly described that experience as helpful in enhancing communication and observational skills. One student felt ‘enlightened’ by writing fieldnotes and commented, ‘I found myself observing everything more keenly.’ All community-based programmes, sometimes reluctant to establish rapport with medical entities, agreed to work with us in the second year based on their positive experiences in the first.
The writing and sharing of ethnographic fieldnotes during clinical experience is, to the best of our knowledge, unique in medical education. The practice helps to achieve several of the objectives of this course: it enhances competency in working with substance-using individuals; it improves observational skills; it promotes critical self-reflection; it develops a practical awareness of the clinical utility of anthropological methods and philosophy, and it encourages reflection on the challenging experiences that are inherent in providing inner city care.