Disentangling clinical learning experiences: an exploratory study on the dynamic tensions in internship

Med Educ. 2006 Sep;40(9):908-15. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2929.2006.02551.x.


Clinical practice is an essential component of medical training, but not all internships yield the appropriate and expected learning results. We report on an exploratory study of the learning process during internship in undergraduate medical education. We hypothesised that learning experiences in clinical practice are determined by characteristics of the interns, characteristics of the training setting and the meaningful interactions between them. As the study focused on the perceptions and interpretations of both interns and their supervisors of interns' experiences in practical training, qualitative research methods were used for data collection and analysis. This consisted of student shadowing, complemented by informal and semistructured interviews with both interns and supervisors. Analysis revealed 5 components that constitute learning experiences in clinical internship. These components represent dynamics in the clinical environment that constantly require students to (re-)define and (re-)position themselves: the agenda of the internship (working versus learning); the attitude of the supervisor (evaluator versus coach); the culture of the training setting (work-orientated versus training-orientated); the intern's learning attitude (passive versus proactive), and the nature of the learning process (informal versus formal). The model of components and tensions offers a conceptual framework to analyse and understand students' learning during internship. It not only contributes to a grounded theoretical conceptualisation of clinical learning, but may also be used in efforts to improve the quality of learning during internship, as well as the level of support and supervision.

MeSH terms

  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Belgium
  • Clinical Medicine / education*
  • Internship and Residency / organization & administration*
  • Interprofessional Relations
  • Learning*
  • Professional Practice*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Teaching / organization & administration