Purpose: The Liaison Committee on Medical Education mandates a core curriculum in primary care but does not specify its content or structure. In this study, we explored the question of whether primary care specialty or geographic location affects student learning and satisfaction.
Methods: From 1994 to 1996, 294 third-year medical students at one medical school in New York state were randomly assigned to multiple teaching sites for a required 5-week primary care clerkship. Independent predictor variables were primary care specialty of the preceptor (family medicine, medicine, pediatrics, or joint medicine and pediatrics) and geographic location of the site (urban, suburban, rural). Outcome measures included four areas of student satisfaction, one of patient volume, and two of student performance.
Results: Primary care specialty had no detectable association with the outcome measures, except for a lower rating of patient diversity in pediatric experiences (P <0.001). Geographic location of the site had a significant association with all measures of student satisfaction and patient volume (all P values <0.001). Students at rural sites rated the experience more highly and saw on average 15 more patients per rotation. Ratings of student satisfaction remained high after adjusting for patient volume. Primary care specialty and geographic location did not influence student performance in the clerkship or scores on standardized patient examination.
Conclusions: Rural geographic location of teaching site, but not primary care specialty, was associated with higher student satisfaction. However, higher student satisfaction ratings did not correspond to better student performance. Provided that all sites meet the screening criteria for inclusion in a teaching program, these findings support the continued development of high-quality, heterogeneous, interdisciplinary, primary care experiences.