There is some evidence that medical students consider population health issues less important than other domains in the health sciences and attitudes to this field may become more negative as training progresses. A need to improve research skills among medical students has also been suggested. Therefore we piloted an integrative teaching exercise that combined teaching of research skills and public health, with real-world research.
Third year medical students at the University of Otago (Dunedin, New Zealand) filled in a questionnaire on their housing conditions and health. The students were given the results of the survey to discuss in a subsequent class. Student response to this teaching exercise was assessed using a Course Evaluation Questionnaire.
Of the 210 students in the class, 136 completed the Course Evaluation Questionnaire (65%). A majority of those who responded (77%) greatly supported or supported the use of the survey and seminar discussion for future third year classes. Most (70%) thought that the session had made them more aware and concerned about societal problems, and 72% felt that they now had an improved understanding of the environmental determinants of health. Students liked the relevance and interaction of the session, but thought it could be improved by the inclusion of small group discussion. The findings of the students' housing and health were considered by the tutors to be of sufficient value to submit to a scientific journal and are now contributing to community action to improve student housing in the city.
In this pilot study it was feasible to integrate medical student teaching with real-world research. A large majority of the students responded favourably to the teaching exercise and this was generally successful in raising the profile of public health and research. This approach to integrated teaching/research should be considered further in health sciences training and continue to be evaluated and refined.