Preparing medical students to become skilled at clinical observation

Med Teach. 2008;30(9-10):857-62. doi: 10.1080/01421590802331446.


Background: Observation is a fundamental skill for physicians and it is has been the subject of a resurgent interest. Although strategies for teaching observation have been described previously, many of them linked conceptually to emerging insights in visual literacy and aesthetic development, principles of clinical observation have not been elucidated.

Aims: The purpose of this study was to develop a set of principles that would be useful in guiding educators teach medical students how to observe.

Methods: The authors conducted a comprehensive review of the literature on the history and theory of clinical observation. They then consulted a group of individuals from a highly diverse background who, based on the nature of their work, were considered to have expertise in observation.

Results: Informed by the literature and the group of experts, the authors developed a set of four guiding principles relating to pedagogy and eight core principles of clinical observation. In the context of curriculum renewal at the Faculty of Medicine, McGill University, these principles were then used to create specific teaching modules.

Conclusions: Principles that are pragmatic in nature, anchored in a theoretical framework of visual competence and applicable to medical education have been developed and successfully deployed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Clinical Medicine / education*
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Humans
  • Observation*
  • Perception
  • Schools, Medical
  • Students, Medical