Medical students' perception of learning from patient encounters in primary health care; a qualitative interview study

BMC Med Educ. 2023 Dec 8;23(1):935. doi: 10.1186/s12909-023-04923-9.


Background: Clinical practice gives medical students opportunities to develop clinical skills and to gain insight into their future profession as a physician. Students in the medical programme at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden had clinical practice in primary health care in nine of their 11 semesters. The aim of this study was to explore medical students' perceptions of learning from patient encounters in a primary health care context.

Methods: The study was a qualitative inductive interview study. The 21 participating medical students were from their 3rd, 4th and 5th (final year) year of the study programme. A semi-structured interview guide was used. The data analysis was performed with qualitative content analysis.

Results: The overarching theme of the study was: The individual patient encounters are the key to learning in primary health care. The patient encounters presented both useful opportunities and challenges that could contribute to the students' professional development. The following four categories were found: 1. Patient encounters in are instructive, rewarding and challenging. Practising in primary health care provided experience in meeting and communicating with a wide variety of patients. Students described it being challenging to trust in their own clinical competence and feeling a responsibility towards the patients. 2. Encounters with patients in primary health care provide opportunities for gradual professional development. Students had the opportunity of increasing independence based on their level of clinical competence. They experienced a progression in their professional development after each period in primary health care. 3. A committed supervisor plays a significant role in learning. Committed supervisors who set aside time for supervision, offered support, and encouraged the student, played an important role in the student's learning. 4. Learning in primary health care and learning in hospitals complement one another. It could be difficult for the students to sort out exactly where they learnt different things as they perceived that learning in primary health care and in hospitals complemented one another.

Conclusions: The students' encounters with authentic patients in primary health care gave them recurring opportunities to develop communication skills and to be trusted to work on their own under supervision, giving them guidance on their way to becoming future physicians.

Keywords: Clinical placement; Learning from patients; Medical education; Medical students; Primary health care.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence
  • Humans
  • Perception
  • Physicians*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Qualitative Research
  • Students, Medical*