Background: Medical students receive increasing amounts of their clinical education in a primary care setting. The educational possibilities of such attachments are still being explored.
Aim: To report the evaluation of a small, radical innovation to provide students with a long-term community attachment which integrated with hospital-based education.
Method: Between 1993 and 1998, 13 medical students completed 15-month attachments with a single general practice in England. The course offered them experience in the major clinical specialties throughout this period. Students were exposed to specialist as well as generalist education in the context of patients with whom they could establish a continuing relationship. The innovation was evaluated by its feasibility, by students' examination results, by analysis of clinical experience, through formal student feedback and by cost.
Results: The course was practicable in a particular setting with academic leadership. The students all passed their exams. They had wide, appropriate clinical experience even though the attachment was to a single practice. When they returned to the hospital environment, students did not feel themselves at a disadvantage compared with traditional students. The costs of the course are controversial: placement costs were higher than in the hospital, but those for facilities were lower.
Conclusion: It is possible to run a course like this successfully. It remains the most radical attempt to share clinical education in the UK between primary and secondary/tertiary care. Further research is required into providing long-term clinical attachments in NHS primary care settings.