Objective: Training in physical diagnostic skills is an important part of undergraduate medical education. The objective of this study was to study the outcome of skills training at four medical schools.
Context: At the time of the study, three schools had a traditional lecture-based curriculum and one school had a problem-based learning curriculum with a longitudinal skills training programme. All schools offer extended exposure to clerkships.
Method: A cross-sectional study in four medical schools was performed, using a written test of skills that has good correlation with actual student performance. The scores attained from four student groups were compared within and between the four medical schools. A total of 859 volunteer students from the later four years at each medical school participated in the study.
Results: The mean scores in the traditional medical schools increased with the start of skill training and the hands-on experience offered during the clerkships. Students from the school with the longitudinal skills training programme and the problem-based learning approach had significantly higher mean scores at the start of the clerkships, and maintained their lead in the subsequent clinical years.
Conclusions: Longitudinal skills training seems to offer the students a superior preparation for clerkships as well as influencing the students' learning abilities during the clerkships. The effect of the problem-based learning approach, also related to the innovative philosophy of the curriculum, could not be accounted for.