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Acad Med. 2005 Mar;80(3):294-9.

Problem-based learning outcomes: the glass half-full.

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  • 1Department of Medical Education, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, PO Box 19681, Springfield, IL 62794-9681, USA.



To compare the characteristics and outcome data of students from a single institution with a two-track, problem based learning (PBL) and standard (STND) curriculum.


PBL and STND students from nine graduating classes at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine were compared using common medical school performance outcomes (USMLE Step 1, USMLE Step 2, clerkship mean ratings, number of clerkship honors and remediation designations, and the senior clinical competency exam), as well as common admission and demographic variables.


PBL students were older, and the cohort had a higher proportion of women. The two tracks had similar USMLE Step 1 and 2 mean scores and pass rates. Performance differences were significant for PBL students in two clerkships as well as in the clerkship subcategories of clinical performance, knowledge and clinical reasoning, and noncognitive behaviors. In addition, the proportion of PBL students earning honors was greater.


The traditional undergraduate educational outcomes for the PBL and STND students are very positive. In several of the clerkship performance measures, the PBL students performed significantly better, and in no circumstance did they perform worse than the STND students.

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