A Qualitative Exploration of How the Conflict Between the Formal and Informal Curriculum Influences Student Values and Behaviors

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PurposeThe third-year students at one medical school told the authors that values core to patient-centered care were impossible to practice in clerkships, in a culture where supervisors role modeled behaviors in direct conflict with patient-centered care. As they developed a new medical student curriculum, the authors designed the Family Centered Experience (FCE) to help students achieve developmental goals and understand the importance of and provide a foundation for patient-centered care.MethodThe authors solicited members of the first cohort to complete the FCE (the class of 2007) to participate in this focus-group-based study halfway through the third year. They explored the influence of the FCE on students’ experiences in the third-year clerkships, and how conflicts between the two learning experiences shaped these students’ values and behaviors.ResultsStudents reported that during clerkships they experienced strong feelings of powerlessness and conflict between what they had learned about patient-centered care in the first two years and what they saw role modeled in the third year. Based on students’ comments, the authors categorized students into one of three groups: those whose patient-centered values were maintained, compromised, or transformed.ConclusionsStudents revealed that their conflict was connected to feelings of powerlessness, along with exacerbating factors including limited time, concerns about expectations for their behavior, and pessimism about change. Role modeling had a significant influence on consequences related to students’ patient-centered values.

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