Context: The decentralization of clinical teaching networks over the past decade calls for a systematic way to record the case-mix of patients, the severity of diseases, and the diagnostic procedures that medical students encounter in clinical clerkships.
Objective: To demonstrate a system that documents medical students' clinical experiences across clerkships.
Design and settings: Evaluation of a method for recording student-patient clinical encounters using a pocket-sized computer-read patient encounter card at a US university hospital and its 16 teaching affiliates during academic years 1997-1998 through 1999-2000.
Participants: A total of 647 third-year medical students who completed patient encounter cards in 3 clerkships: family medicine, pediatrics, and internal medicine.
Main outcome measures: Number of patient encounters, principal and secondary diagnoses, severity of diseases, and diagnostic procedures as recorded on patient encounter cards; concordance of patient encounter card data with medical records.
Results: Students completed 86 011 patient encounter cards: 48 367 cards by 582 students in family medicine, 22 604 cards by 469 students in pediatrics, and 15 040 cards by 531 students in internal medicine. Significant differences were found in students' case-mix of patients, the level of disease severity, and the number of diagnostic procedures performed across the 3 clerkships. Stability of the findings within each clerkship across 3 academic years and the 77% concordance of students' reports of principal diagnosis with faculty's confirmation of diagnosis support the reliability and validity of the findings.
Conclusions: An instrument that facilitates students' documentation of clinical experiences can provide data on important differences among students' clerkship experiences. Data from this instrument can be used to assess the nature of students' clinical education.