Context: The clinical learning climate affects undergraduate medical students' behaviour, satisfaction and success. Most studies predominantly describe aspects of the clinical learning climate using quantitative methodologies, such as questionnaires. This study aimed to illuminate medical students' perceptions of the clinical learning climate, and which factors and their interactions explain differences in clinical learning climates.
Methods: We carried out a multi-method case study. Twelve departments of obstetrics and gynaecology distributed the Postgraduate Hospital Educational Environment Measure (PHEEM), a reliable questionnaire measuring the clinical learning environment, among medical students. After analysis (using anova and post hoc tests), 14 medical students from the highest- and lowest-scoring departments participated in semi-structured interviews. We analysed the transcribed recordings using a content analysis approach. Researchers agreed on coding and an expert group reached consensus on the themes of the analysis.
Results: We found a significant difference between departments in PHEEM scores. The interviews indicated that department and medical student characteristics determine the clinical learning climate. For departments, 'legitimacy', 'clerkship arrangements' and 'focus on personal development' were the main themes. For medical students, 'initial initiatives', 'continuing development' and 'clerkship fatigue' were the principal themes. The amount and nature of participation played a central role in all themes.
Conclusions: Differences between clinical learning climates appear to be related to differing approaches to participation among departments. Participation depends on characteristics of both departments and students, and the interactions among them. The outcomes give valuable clues to how a favourable clinical learning climate is shaped.