Medical School Course Formats And Teaching Styles

May 2, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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Understanding The Different Medical School Course Formats And Teaching Styles

All medical programmes do not use the same teaching style. When you are short-listing medical schools that you would like to apply to, one of the criteria you will want to consider is the teaching style that is used at that particular school. There are three main teaching methods that schools may choose from:


PBL or Problem-Based Learning


Understanding the differences between these three styles will help you make an informed decision about which schools are a better fit for you.

Traditional Format

The traditional method typically focuses on school-based medical tutorials and lectures in pure science for the first two to three years of the course. For the rest of the course, which includes the clinical years, students are taught in clinical settings such as GP placements, ward rounds and others depending on the hospital or healthcare establishment that the school is affiliated with.

Pros and Cons Of The Traditional Format: The distinct benefit of this method is that students get a really strong foundation of the scientific theories of medicine and the clinical exposure is rooted in this strong knowledge base. The cons are that students are often out of touch with the reality of practical medicine. You learn scientific theories that may be often forgotten when you are faced with the realities of medicine. 

Problem-based learning Format

Examining samples in the lab! The PBL method focuses on student-centred teaching. Students do not learn any one subject in isolation. Instead, they learn about each subject in the context of realistic, multifaceted situations. This learning method encourages motivation and self-directed learning and aims to help students develop flexible knowledge and effective collaboration and problem solving skills. Medical students are regularly sent out to work in teams to examine various clinical scenarios. These scenarios usually contain triggers and cues from which students gather learning objectives for private study. These are then discussed at the next meeting and each student’s conclusions are then presented to the group and the facilitator for further discussion and evaluation.

Pros and Cons of the PBL Format: The advantages of this method are that it encourages self-directed learning and independent as well as collaborative problem-solving along with early clinical exposure. Another benefit is that the PBL method cannot be taught within a strict 9 – 5 schedule, which allows students to pursue other interests outside of the course if they can manage their time effectively. The downside is that this format is not so well established and is also not standardised, which means the success of the course is hugely dependant on the quality of the facilitator as well as the commitment of the student group. There is also more potential for gaps in the scientific understanding.

Integrated Format

In the integrated format, lectures are integrated with clinical attachments from the commencement of the course so students get sufficient exposure in both from the start.

Pros and Cons of the Integrated Format: The major benefits of this teaching style are that scientific knowledge is delivered to students at the appropriate stage and secondly, students also have early clinical exposure. The downsides are that you may be faced with patients before you feel you know enough and also, you will still be attending lectures in the last few years of the course.

Which Style Suits You Best?

So how do you choose which one is best for you? There are pros and cons to each of these teaching styles. Which medical course you should go for is a matter of personal choice and depends on your inherent learning style.

The traditional method might be the best choice for you if you prefer learning all the scientific details first before coming face to face with patients.

If you favour self-directed learning and team-working and seminars over class-based lectures, then PBL would be more appropriate for you.

The integrated method may be better suited to you if you can’t wait to get involved with clinical scenarios and you know you will be able to meet the challenge.