Designing a purposeful student assistantship

Clin Teach. 2012 Aug;9(4):210-5. doi: 10.1111/j.1743-498X.2012.00553.x.


Background: The student assistantship, during which medical students act as assistants to junior doctors, is currently being integrated into all UK medical school curricula. However, there is a dearth of evidence to guide design and implementation, particularly in relation to the priorities for student learning. This study aimed to explore the specific learning opportunities within an assistantship that are perceived as important by foundation year-1 doctors (FY1s) and their educational supervisors.

Methods: A questionnaire study of University of Edinburgh graduates, and their educational supervisors, was undertaken in January 2011. The survey investigated the perceived importance of 16 predefined learning opportunities, and asked respondents to indicate the learning opportunity that they regarded as most important. Free-text responses relating to other beneficial components were sought and thematically analysed.

Results: All 16 learning opportunities were regarded as useful by over 80 per cent of FY1s, and over 50 per cent of educational supervisors. The opportunities considered most important by both FY1s and educational supervisors were prescribing drugs and fluids, providing emergency care and prioritisation of tasks. Free-text responses suggested that experience of out-of-hours working, administrative tasks and the theatre environment were also important.

Discussion: By asking FY1s and educational supervisors to consider the most useful learning opportunity, it has been possible to use the respective rankings to guide the design and implementation of the assistantship. Our future challenge is to develop ways of allowing students to gain experience in the areas considered most important, whilst ensuring the safety of patients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Clinical Competence
  • Curriculum*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Faculty, Medical*
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Mentors*
  • Students, Medical / psychology*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Teaching / methods*
  • United Kingdom