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Teach Learn Med. 2017 Mar 20:1-9. doi: 10.1080/10401334.2017.1297712. [Epub ahead of print]

Medical Student Perceptions of the Learning Environment in Medical School Change as Students Transition to Clinical Training in Undergraduate Medical School.

Author information

a Medical Education Outcomes, American Medical Association , Chicago , Illinois , USA.
b Department of Neurology , Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine , Maywood , Illinois , USA.
c Department of Family Medicine , University of Vermont Larner College of Medicine , Burlington , Vermont , USA.
d Educational Programs and Services, Stanford University School of Medicine , Stanford , California , USA.
e Department of Pediatrics , Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California , Los Angeles , California , USA.
f Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, Los Angeles , Los Angeles , California , USA.
g Medical Education, American Medical Association , Chicago , Illinois , USA.


Phenomenon: The learning environment is the physical, social, and psychological context in which a student learns. A supportive learning environment contributes to student well-being and enhances student empathy, professionalism, and academic success, whereas an unsupportive learning environment may lead to burnout, exhaustion, and cynicism. Student perceptions of the medical school learning environment may change over time and be associated with students' year of training and may differ significantly depending on the student's gender or race/ethnicity. Understanding the changes in perceptions of the learning environment related to student characteristics and year of training could inform interventions that facilitate positive experiences in undergraduate medical education.


The Medical School Learning Environment Survey (MSLES) was administered to 4,262 students who matriculated at one of 23 U.S. and Canadian medical schools in 2010 and 2011. Students completed the survey at the end of each year of medical school as part of a battery of surveys in the Learning Environment Study. A mixed-effects longitudinal model, t tests, Cohen's d effect size, and analysis of variance assessed the relationship between MSLES score, year of training, and demographic variables.


After controlling for gender, race/ethnicity, and school, students reported worsening perceptions toward the medical school learning environment, with the worst perceptions in the 3rd year of medical school as students begin their clinical experiences, and some recovery in the 4th year after Match Day. The drop in MSLES scores associated with the transition to the clinical learning environment (-0.26 point drop in addition to yearly change, effect size = 0.52, p < .0001) is more than 3 times greater than the drop between the 1st and 2nd year (0.07 points, effect size = 0.14, p < .0001). The largest declines were from items related to work-life balance and informal student relationships. There was some, but not complete, recovery in perceptions of the medical school learning environment in the 4th year. Insights: Perceptions of the medical school learning environment worsen as students continue through medical school, with a stronger decline in perception scores as students' transition to the clinical learning environment. Students reported the greatest drop in finding time for outside activities and students helping one another in the 3rd year. Perceptions differed based on gender and race/ethnicity. Future studies should investigate the specific features of medical schools that contribute most significantly to student perceptions of the medical school learning environment, both positive and negative, to pinpoint potential interventions and improvements.


MSLES; Medical education; UME; learning environment; transition to clinical

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