Context: The UK General Medical Council has proposed that increased use of community settings is essential to enhancement of medical education. However, such curriculum developments have been directed by educationalists and clinical faculty; there is to date little to show whether student perspectives accord with such expectations.
Aim: To examine student views on whether community-based learning during a UK undergraduate medical education course results in new learning in the areas expected, and to elucidate any process factors which enhance attainment of learning objectives.
Method: Nominal group technique, to develop consensus on important learning outcomes and process factors, and questionnaire survey, developed from the views of the nominal groups.
Results: 89 students participated (response rate 70% for the nominal groups, and 88% for questionnaire). Students perceived increased learning in many of the areas expected. In particular, students reported significant learning from: witnessing the impact of a longer term and more personal relationship with patients; the visible impact of social environment on health; the importance of dealing with people rather than diseases, and the use of the whole team for care. In addition, they emphasized that tutor, staff and patient enthusiasm for student presence and learning greatly enhanced the student learning experience.
Conclusions: Community settings appear to achieve the expected attitudinal adaptation of students. The role of the committed tutor and team is seen as pivotal to learning. The conclusions support an increased emphasis in contemporary medical education and related research activity on the key impact of relationships in the learning environment.