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Experience-based learning: an alternative approach to teaching medical students on paediatric placements
  1. Richard L Conn1,2,
  2. Frederick Speyer1,
  3. Gail Lindsey Davison1,2,
  4. Tim Dornan1
  1. 1 Centre for Medical Education, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast, UK
  2. 2 Paediatrics, Royal Belfast Hospital for Sick Children, Belfast, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Richard L Conn, Centre for Medical Education, Queen's University Belfast, Belfast BT9 7BL, UK; r.conn{at}

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Paediatric placements provide medical student’ main undergraduate training in caring for children and young people. Yet changes in medical education have reduced opportunities to participate in patient care, potentially leading students to feel underprepared for the challenges of paediatric practice. This article introduces experience-based learning (ExBL), an evidence-based framework to guide clinicians involved in teaching medical students. It describes how the framework was developed and outlines its central principles – promoting students’ participation in patient care and supporting them to reflect on their experiences. It then offers practical guidance on how clinicians can use ExBL to reformulate and refresh paediatric placements within the constraints facing clinical education and practice.

The issue

You regularly teach medical students on paediatric clinical placements in your hospital. Sometimes you lead tutorials or bedside teaching, but mostly it involves medical students coming to the ward, joining ward rounds or sitting in on clinics. Most of the time you are too busy with clinical work to devote much time to them, and you are unsure if the medical students get anything out of it.

While all doctors have been through medical school, they often struggle to know what medical students need to know and how best to help them learn it. The problem is exacerbated because clinicians, while shouldering most teaching responsibility, have to contend with competing priorities, time constraints, and, often, minimal instruction on how to approach the task.

In paediatric placements, which provide students’ main undergraduate training in caring for children and young people (CYP), this issue is especially important. Besides learning about childhood conditions, students have to get to grips with handling small babies, negotiating with fractious toddlers, communicating with adolescents, and reassuring worried parents and carers—daunting tasks even before illness is thrown into the mix. Thus, while paediatrics is generally a welcoming specialty …

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  • Contributors RLC wrote the submission, which was reviewed, edited and agreed on by the coauthors.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.