Consequences, conditions and caveats : a qualitative exploration of the influence of undergraduate health professions students at distributed clinical training sites

Van Schalkwyk, Susan ; Blitz, Julia ; Couper, Ian ; De Villiers, Marietjie ; Lourens, Guin ; Muller, Jana ; Van Heerden, Ben (2018-12-19)

CITATION: Van Schalkwyk, S., et al. 2018. Consequences, conditions and caveats : a qualitative exploration of the influence of undergraduate health professions students at distributed clinical training sites. BMC Medical Education, 18:311, doi:10.1186/s12909-018-1412-y.

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Publication of this article was funded by the Stellenbosch University Open Access Fund.


Background: Traditionally, the clinical training of health professionals has been located in central academic hospitals. This is changing. As academic institutions explore ways to produce a health workforce that meets the needs of both the health system and the communities it serves, the placement of students in these communities is becoming increasingly common. While there is a growing literature on the student experience at such distributed sites, we know less about how the presence of students influences the site itself. We therefore set out to elicit insights from key role-players at a number of distributed health service-based training sites about the contribution that students make and the influence their presence has on that site. Methods: This interpretivist study analysed qualitative data generated during twenty-four semi-structured interviews with facility managers, clinical supervisors and other clinicians working at eight distributed sites. A sampling grid was used to select sites that proportionally represented location, level of care and mix of health professions students. Transcribed data were subjected to thematic analysis. Following an iterative process, initial analyses and code lists were discussed and compared between team members after which the data were coded systematically across the entire data set. Results: The clustering and categorising of codes led to the generation of three over-arching themes: influence on the facility (culturally and materially); on patient care and community (contribution to service; improved patient outcomes); and on supervisors (enriched work experience, attitude towards teaching role). A subsequent stratified analysis of emergent events identified some consequences of taking clinical training to distributed sites. These consequences occurred when certain conditions were present. Further critical reflection pointed to a set of caveats that modulated the nature of these conditions, emphasising the complexity inherent in this context. Conclusions: The move towards training health professions students at distributed sites potentially offers many affordances for the facilities where the training takes places, for those responsible for student supervision, and for the patients and communities that these facilities serve. In establishing and maintaining relationships with the facilities, academic institutions will need to be mindful of the conditions and caveats that can influence these affordances.

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