Objective: Many medical schools have drawn up lists of basic clinical skills that students are required to have mastered at the end of medical training. To determine whether undergraduate students actually perform these basic clinical skills during clerkships and whether different approaches to skills training led to different results, we surveyed 365 final-year medical students in 1996 and 1997.
Method: A questionnaire containing items on 265 skills in eight body systems was administered to students from two conventional medical schools (Ghent and Antwerp, Belgium), and one Dutch medical school, Maastricht, which offers a problem-based curriculum and systematic skills training.
Results: Although quite a few skills were not performed by Maastricht students, the results of this school compared favourably to those of the Ghent and Antwerp medical schools. Significant differences between Ghent and Antwerp were found for surgery, paediatrics and gynaecology/obstetrics. In the non-obligatory clerkships in dermatology, otorhinolaryngology and ophthalmology a great percentage of skills were not performed.
Conclusions: The main conclusion is that all three medical schools cannot rely on clerkship experiences alone to provide adequate basic skills training. A problem-based learning environment and training in a skills laboratory appear to result in students performing more skills during clerkships. Assessment of clinical skills, obligatory clerkships in specialties and general practice, and continuous monitoring of the quality of clerkships may also be strong determinants of the present findings.