Longterm effects of problem-based learning: a comparison of competencies acquired by graduates of a problem-based and a conventional medical school

Med Educ. 2006 Jun;40(6):562-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2929.2006.02483.x.


Background: Problem-based learning (PBL) as an approach to the instruction of medical students has attracted much attention in recent years. However, its effect on the performance of its graduates is the subject of considerable debate. This article presents data from a large-scale study among graduates of a problem-based medical school and those of a conventional medical school to contribute to this discussion.

Purpose: To study the longterm effects of problem-based medical training on the professional competencies of graduates.

Methods: A questionnaire was sent to all graduates since 1980 of a problem-based and a conventional medical school. Participants were requested to rate themselves on 18 professional competencies derived from the literature.

Results: The graduates of the PBL school scored higher on 14 of 18 professional competencies. Graduates of the problem-based school rated themselves as having much better interpersonal skills, better competencies in problem solving, self-directed learning and information gathering, and somewhat better task-supporting skills, such as the ability to work and plan efficiently. There were no sizeable differences with regard to general academic competencies, such as conducting research or writing a paper. Graduates from the conventional school rated themselves as having slightly more medical knowledge. The findings were shown to be valid and robust against possible response bias.

Conclusion: The findings suggest that PBL not only affects the typical PBL-related competencies in the interpersonal and cognitive domains, but also the more general work-related skills that are deemed important for success in professional practice.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence / standards*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / standards*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interprofessional Relations*
  • Male
  • Netherlands
  • Problem-Based Learning*
  • Schools, Medical / organization & administration
  • Schools, Medical / standards*