Background: Flinders University has developed the Parallel Rural Community Curriculum (PRCC), a full year clinical curriculum based in rural general practice in South Australia. The examination performance of students on this course has been shown to be higher than that of their tertiary hospital-based peers.
Aim: To compare the learning experiences of students in the community-based programme with those of students in the tertiary hospital in order to explain these improved academic outcomes.
Method: A case study was undertaken, using an interpretivist perspective, with 3 structured interviews carried out over 2 academic years with each of 6 students from the community-based programme and 16 students from the tertiary hospital. The taped interviews were transcribed and analysed thematically using NUD*IST software.
Results: The community-based programme was successful in immersing the students in the clinical environment in a meaningful way. Four key themes were found in the data. These represented clear differences between the experiences of the community-based and hospital-based students. These differences involved: the value that students perceived they were given by supervising doctors and their patients; the extent to which the student's presence realised a synergy between the work of the university and the health service; opportunities for students to meet the aspirations of both the community and government policy, and opportunities for students to learn how professional expectations can mesh with their own personal values.
Conclusion: This study has provided empirical evidence for the importance of the concept of symbiosis in understanding quality in medical education.