Preparing Medical Students for Clerkships: A Descriptive Analysis of Transition Courses

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Abstract

Students have reported several challenging aspects of the transition to clerkships, such as applying clinical knowledge, learning experientially, using clinical skills, adjusting to clinical settings, and understanding roles. In an effort to address some of these challenges, a number of medical schools have added transition courses to their curricula, but little information about these courses has been published. The authors draw on findings from a study of the design and content of 30 transition courses offered in U.S. medical schools, to examine various approaches and provide a framework to guide the design of transition courses.

Most courses (83%) were between one day and one week long. The authors identified three primary course themes: presentation of new information and skills, review and application of content covered in the preclerkship curriculum, and student well-being. All courses presented new information and skills, and more than half of the courses (53%) addressed all three themes. The most common curricular topics were technical/procedural skills, safety precautions, orientation to clinical settings, review of clinical skills, and stress management. Hands-on experience was the most frequently used instructional approach. Few courses had explicit goals and objectives, and evaluation of students was rare.

Transition courses can address some of the needs and challenges associated with early clerkship experiences. These courses should explicitly target areas of need that are described in the literature as well as those identified within one’s own institution. They should include clear objectives, learning activities tailored to the areas of need and objectives, and student and course evaluations.

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