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Acad Med. 1996 Jan;71(1):41-4.

An active-learning approach to basic clinical skills.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Northwestern University Medical School (NUMS), USA.


Within the context of comprehensive changes in the preclinical curriculum at Northwestern University Medical School, the authors sought to create an active-learning approach to teaching the basic clinical skills of communication, physical examination, and diagnostic reasoning. This approach is built upon the premise that repetitive practice using a structured database, which is emphasized in traditional curricula, is necessary but not sufficient for students' early development as clinicians, as it marginalizes essential areas of discourse and restricts students' understanding of the scope of the medical encounter. Accordingly, this clinical skills curriculum incorporates small-group, patient-instructor, and peer-observation formats to encourage critical thinking and reflection. The clinical skills units have been among the most popular aspects of Northwestern's new curriculum. Preliminary data suggest that the overall attitudes, knowledge, and clinical proficiency of students completing this curriculum compare favorably with those of students who progressed through the preclinical curriculum before the active-learning approach was introduced.

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