Friday, June 5, 2009

Where do first year medical students look things up?

In the last two days I have spoken to 31 first year medical students about their early clinical attachments in primary and seconday care. I asked them where they looked up unfamiliar clinical topics. These are some of the responses:
  • Wikipedia
  • Google
  • Kumar and Clark
  • Medical dictionary
  • YouTube (especially to find out more about operations)
  • NHS Direct/Choices
  • Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine
  • I didn't look anything up.
Wikipedia was definitely the most common choice. Many students said 'I know I shouldn't but....' and then qualified that they used Wikipedia first because it was easy to understand, they felt it was reasonably reliable, and accessible. One student used it to search directly from her phone when on placement.

I was intrigued by one student who was very keen to distinguish 'learning' which was what he did for exams... spotting questions on past papers and reviewing lecture notes... from 'experience', when he would access YouTube or Wikipedia to find out more about something that really interested him. His reluctance to call this learning reminded me of a third year student I spoke to earlier in the year. We were talking about how she would continue learning for the rest of her life. "That's so depressing", she said. In her mind learning was bound up with exams and assessment.

Should we worry about students turning to Wikipedia so often? Which other resources are just as user-friendly and comprehensive?

I think that NHS Choices is a good place to start.

EDIT: Just to make clear, the first year students I am referring to here are in an undergraduate 5 year course. The first few years of the course are pre-clinical but these early clinical attachements are to give them some initial insights into the world of clinical medicine. Some medical schools in the UK have no distinction between the pre-clinical and clinical parts of the course.

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