Teaching undergraduate students in rural general practice: an evaluation of a new rural campus in England

Teaching undergraduate students in rural general practice: an evaluation of a new rural campus in England

Citation: Bartlett M, Pritchard K, Lewis L, Hays RB, McKinley RK.  Teaching undergraduate students in rural general practice: an evaluation of a new rural campus in England. Rural and Remote Health (Internet) 2016; 16: 3694. Available: http://www.rrh.org.au/articles/subviewnew.asp?ArticleID=3694(Accessed 26 June 2016)

Introduction:  One approach to facilitating student interactions with patient pathways at Keele University School of Medicine, England, is the placement of medical students for 25% of their clinical placement time in general practices. The largest component is a 15-week ‘student attachment’ in primary care during the final year, which required the development of a new network of teaching practices in a rural district of England about 90 km (60 mi) from the main campus in North Staffordshire. The new accommodation and education hub was established in 2011–2012 to enable students to become immersed in those communities and learn about medical practice within a rural and remote context. Objectives were to evaluate the rural teaching from the perspectives of four groups: patients, general practice tutors, community hospital staff and students. Learning outcomes (as measured by objective structured clinical examinations) of students learning in rural practices in the final year were compared with those in other practices.
Methods:  Data were gathered from a variety of sources. Students’ scores in cohort-wide clinical assessment were compared with those in other locations. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with general practice tutors and community hospital staff. Serial focus groups explored the perceptions of the students, and questionnaires were used to gather the views of patients.
Results:  Patients reported positive experiences of students in their consultations, with 97% expressing willingness to see students. The majority of patients considered that teaching in general practice was a good thing. They also expressed altruistic ideas about facilitating learning. The tutors were enthusiastic and perceived that teaching had positive impacts on their practices despite negative effects on their workload. The community hospital staff welcomed students and expressed altruistic ideas about helping them learn. There was no significant difference between the rurally placed students’ objective structured clinical examination performance and that of their peers in other locations. Some students had difficulty with the isolation from peers and academic activities, and travel was a problem despite their accommodation close to the practices.
Conclusions:  Students valued the learning opportunities offered by the rural practice placements. The general practice tutors, patients and community hospital staff found teaching to be a positive experience overall and perceived a value to the health system and broader community in students learning locally for substantial periods of time. The evaluation has identified some student concerns about transport times and costs, social isolation, and access to resources and administrative tasks, and these are being addressed.

Key words: general practice, medical education, primary health care, rural clinical placements, undergraduate, United Kingdom.

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