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Med Educ. 2009 Feb;43(2):184-91. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2008.03283.x.

Student views on the effective teaching of physical examination skills: a qualitative study.

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Student Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, Maastricht, The Netherlands.



The lack of published studies into effective skills teaching in clinical skills centres inspired this study of student views of the teaching behaviours of skills teachers.


We organised focus group discussions with students from Years 1-3 of a 6-year undergraduate medical curriculum. A total of 30 randomly selected students, divided into three groups, took part in two sessions. They discussed what teaching skills helped them to acquire physical examination skills.


Students' opinions related to didactic skills, interpersonal and communication skills and preconditions. Students appreciated didactic skills that stimulate deep and active learning. Another significant set of findings referred to teachers' attitudes towards students. Students wanted teachers to be considerate and to take them seriously. This was reflected in student descriptions of positive behaviours, such as: 'responding to students' questions'; 'not exposing students' weaknesses in front of the group', and '[not] putting students in an embarrassing position in skill demonstrations'. They also appreciated enthusiasm in teachers. Important preconditions included: the integration of skills training with basic science teaching; linking of skills training to clinical practice; the presence of clear goals and well-structured sessions; good time management; consistency of teaching, and the appropriate personal appearance of teachers and students.


The teaching skills and behaviours that most facilitate student acquisition of physical examination skills are interpersonal and communication skills, followed by a number of didactic interventions, embedded in several preconditions. Findings related to interpersonal and communication skills are comparable with findings pertaining to the teaching roles of tutors and clinical teachers; however, the didactic skills merit separate attention as teaching skills for use in skills laboratories. The results of this study should be complemented by a study performed in a larger population and a study exploring teachers' views.

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