Introduction: The pre-registration house officer (PRHO) year can be seen as a formal apprenticeship into the profession of medicine, and as central to the identity construction of the doctor. The year characteristically involves rotation between specialties, including attachment to ward-based 'firms', where consultants teach PRHOs.
Discussion: Teaching and learning in ward-based environments is under-researched, and the current literature displays a bias towards a psychological model of pedagogy that focuses upon transmission of knowledge and skills from one individual to another. Such a model offers a necessary, but not sufficient, explanation of how work-based learning occurs. Understanding the PRHO apprenticeship year should include reference to cultural dimensions to learning, especially socialisation into the profession. This constitutes an 'extended' (or 'hidden') curriculum model that may be theorised through contemporary ideas of activity learning within a 'new apprenticeship' framework.
Conclusion: The dominant psychological model can lead to an expectation for a uniform method of teaching and learning in ward round contexts that (a) ignores important differences in educational climate between established communities of practice, and (b) orients both teachers and learners to one-to-one transmission and reception, rather than sensitising to how knowledge may be held across members of a working group. The latter shifts emphasis away from reception to issues of active access. PRHOs, as novices, are not relegated to passive learning roles, but may actively co-construct knowledge with experts, offering potential transformation of the practices of ward groups.