Designing faculty development : lessons learnt from a qualitative interpretivist study exploring students’ expectations and experiences of clinical teaching

Blitz, Julia ; De Villiers, Marietjie ; Van Schalkwyk, Susan (2019)

CITATION: Blitz, J., De Villiers, M. & Van Schalkwyk, S. 2019. Designing faculty development : lessons learnt from a qualitative interpretivist study exploring students’ expectations and experiences of clinical teaching. Medical Education, 9:49, doi:10.1186/s12909-019-1480-7.

The original publication is available at

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


Background: Clinical teaching plays a crucial role in the transition of medical students into the world of professional practice. Faculty development initiatives contribute to strengthening clinicians’ approach to teaching. In order to inform the design of such initiatives, we thought that it would be useful to discover how senior medical students’ experience of clinical teaching may impact on how learning during clinical training might be strengthened. Methods: This qualitative study was conducted using convenience sampling of medical students in the final two months of study before qualifying. Three semi-structured focus group discussions were held with a total of 23 students. Transcripts were analysed from an interpretivist stance, looking for underlying meanings. The resultant themes revealed a tension between the students’ expectations and experience of clinical teaching. We returned to our data looking for how students had responded to these tensions. Results: Students saw clinical rotations as having the potential for them to apply their knowledge and test their procedural abilities in the environment where their professional practice and identity will develop. They expected engagement in the clinical workplace. However, their descriptions were of tensions between prior expectations and actual experiences in the environment. They appreciated that learning required them to move out of their “comfort zone”, but seemed to persist in the idea of being recipients of teaching rather than becoming directors of their own learning. Students seem to need help in participating in the clinical setting, understanding how this participation will construct the knowledge and skills required as they join the workplace. Students did not have a strong sense of agency to negotiate participation in the clinical workplace. Conclusions: There is the potential for clinicians to assist students in adapting their way of learning from the largely structured classroom based learning of theoretical knowledge, to the more experiential informal workplacebased learning of practice. This suggests that faculty developers could broaden their menu of offerings to clinicians by intentionally incorporating ways not only of offering students affordances in the clinical learning environment, but also of attending to the development of students’ agentic capability to engage with those affordances offered.

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