Can medical students learn specialist disciplines based in rural practice: lessons from students' self reported experience and competence

Rural Remote Health. 2004 Oct-Dec;4(4):338. Epub 2004 Nov 23.


Introduction: Medical schools in Australia are being funded by the Commonwealth Government Department of Health and Aging to move a considerable amount of undergraduate clinical education into rural and remote settings. There are concerns that these students may be disadvantaged in terms of exposure to appropriate clinical learning opportunities. This study compared learning opportunities for students undertaking an entire clinical year based in a rural primary care setting, a remote secondary hospital, or a traditional urban tertiary teaching hospital.

Methods: Twenty-nine students, six from rural primary care, eight from the remote secondary hospital, and 15 from the urban tertiary teaching hospital, completed a retrospective survey of their experience and perceived competence to manage 78 common procedural skills and 62 common conditions.

Results: Students in rural primary care reported a pattern of increased clinical exposure to common clinical conditions and procedures in comparison with their hospital-based peers. In comparing the two hospital-based programs, the students in the remote secondary care hospital reported increased exposure to common conditions and no significant difference in the opportunity to undertake common procedures. The data also demonstrated that there was a positive correlation between reported experience and self-perceived competence, and that this was greater for procedural skills than competence in managing common conditions.

Conclusions: This study provides further evidence that rural primary care is an excellent setting for high quality clinical and educational experiences. These findings should serve to encourage students and staff involved with the new Rural Clinical School programs.