Balancing acting and adapting: a qualitative study of medical students' experiences of early clinical placement

BMC Med Educ. 2022 Sep 3;22(1):659. doi: 10.1186/s12909-022-03714-y.


Background: Clinical learning experience is an important part of medical education. In the clinical learning environment, students are exposed to various aspects of medical care and may train their skills under supervision. Supervision, in which students' learning needs and the outcomes of placements are met, is essential. The aim of this study was to explore medical students' experiences of the early stages of clinical training.

Methods: In 2021, 18 individual semi-structured interviews were conducted with medical students after their first clinical placements in semester 5. The interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed using qualitative content analysis according to Graneim and Lundman.

Results: The findings resulted in an overall theme: balancing acting and adapting. Three categories described that the clinical learning environment was a big leap from campus, that personal relationships influenced learning, and that the organization of clinical placements was suboptimal. The students were encouraged to push themselves forward to practice clinical skills. This, however, did not suit all the students; the cautious ones risked becoming passive spectators. The intended learning outcomes were not frequently used; rather, the supervisors asked the students what they had learned, or the students focused on what seemed to be important on the ward. The students tried to adapt to their supervisors' working situation and not to be a burden to them.

Conclusions: Our findings show that the transition from learning on campus was sometimes abrupt, as the students had to switch to a more active learning role. Ad hoc solutions in supervision occurred, which contributed to the experience that educational responsibilities were downgraded and the opportunities for clinical training varied. Rather than trying to change the circumstances, the students opted to adapt to the busy clinical learning environment.

Keywords: Intended learning outcomes; Medical student; Supervision; Undergraduate education.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Humans
  • Qualitative Research
  • Students, Medical*