The influence of mixing international and domestic students on competency learning in small groups in undergraduate medical education

BMC Med Educ. 2020 Oct 8;20(1):353. doi: 10.1186/s12909-020-02277-0.

Abstract

Background: Medical curricula are increasingly internationalized, with international students being mixed with domestic students in small group learning. Small group learning is known to foster competency learning in undergraduate medical education, specifically Communication, Collaboration, Leadership, and Professionalism. However, it is unclear what happens with the learning of competencies when international students are introduced in small groups. This study explores if students in international small groups master the competencies Collaboration, Leadership and Professionalism at the same level as students in domestic groups in an undergraduate medical curriculum.

Method: In total, 1215 Students of three academic year cohorts participated in the study. They were divided into four learning communities (LCs), per year cohort, in which tutor groups were the main instructional format. The tutorials of two learning communities were taught in English, with a mix of international and Dutch students. The tutorials of the other two learning communities were taught in Dutch with almost all domestic students. Trained tutors assessed three competencies (Collaboration, Leadership, Professionalism) twice per semester, as 'Not-on-track', 'On-track', or 'Fast-on-track'. By using Chi-square tests, we compared students' competencies performance twice per semester between the four LCs in the first two undergraduate years.

Results: The passing rate ('On-track' plus 'Fast-on-track') for the minimum level of competencies did not differ between the mixed and domestic groups. However, students in the mixed groups received more excellent performance evaluations ('Fast-on-track') than the students in the homogenous groups of Dutch students. This higher performance was true for both international and Dutch students of the mixed groups. Prior knowledge, age, gender, and nationality did not explain this phenomenon. The effect could also not be explained by a bias of the tutors.

Conclusion: When students are educated in mixed groups of international and Dutch students, they can obtain the same basic competency levels, no matter what mix of students is made. However, students in the mixed international groups outperformed the students in the homogenous Dutch groups in achieving excellent performance scores. Future research should explore if these findings can be explained from differences in motivation, perceived grading or social network interactions.

Keywords: Competency-based medical education; Internationalization; Learning community.