At most medical schools the components required to conduct a consultation, medical knowledge, communication, clinical reasoning and physical examination skills, are trained separately. Afterwards, all the knowledge and skills students acquired must be integrated into complete consultations, an art that lies at the heart of the medical profession. Inevitably, students experience conducting consultations as complex and challenging. Literature emphasizes the importance of three didactic course principles: moving from partial tasks to whole task learning, diminishing supervisors’ support and gradually increasing students’ responsibility. This study explores students’ experiences of an integrated consultation course using these three didactic principles to support them in this difficult task.
Six focus groups were conducted with 20 pre-clerkship and 19 clerkship students in total. Discussions were audiotaped, transcribed and analysed by Nvivo using the constant comparative strategy within a thematic analysis.
Conducting complete consultations motivated students in their learning process as future physician. Initially, students were very much focused on medical problem solving. Completing the whole task of a consultation obligated them to transfer their theoretical medical knowledge into applicable clinical knowledge on the spot. Furthermore, diminishing the support of a supervisor triggered students to reflect on their own actions but contrasted with their increased appreciation of critical feedback. Increasing students’ responsibility stimulated their active learning but made some students feel overloaded. These students were anxious to miss patient information or not being able to take the right decisions or to answer patients’ questions, which sometimes resulted in evasive coping techniques, such as talking faster to prevent the patient asking questions.
The complex task of conducting complete consultations should be implemented early within medical curricula because students need time to organize their medical knowledge into applicable clinical knowledge. An integrated consultation course should comprise a step-by-step teaching strategy with a variety of supervisors’ feedback modi, adapted to students’ competence. Finally, students should be guided in formulating achievable standards to prevent them from feeling overloaded in practicing complete consultations with simulated or real patients.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-206) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.