Background: General practice is a common setting for medical students' clinical training. However, little is known about patients' views on consulting with senior students.
Aims: To investigate patients' attitudes to consultations conducted by senior students alone, before patients saw their GP; and to enquire into patients' perception of their teaching role.
Method: Adult patients attending 50 health centres in Sweden completed a questionnaire directly after their consultation with a fifth-year medical student and their GP. Results were analysed quantitatively and qualitatively.
Results: The questionnaire was completed by 495 patients, and 92% were satisfied with their consultation. Reasons were personal gain as well as altruism. Almost all patients were prepared to consult with a student again, however in a third of cases conditional on the nature of their presenting complaints. Emotional problems and intimate examinations could cause reluctance. Patients' conception of their teaching role supported previous research: patients as "facilitators of students" development of professional skills and as "experts" or "exemplars" of their condition. An additional theme, patients as "part of a real context", emerged.
Conclusions: Patients in general practice have a positive view towards consulting with senior students. Even unprepared patients see themselves as contributors to teaching, and their capacity in this respect is probably under-utilized.