Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

What are the benefits of early patient contact? - A comparison of three preclinical patient contact settings

Marjorie D Wenrich1*, Molly B Jackson2, Ineke Wolfhagen3, Paul G Ramsey1 and Albert JJ Scherpbier3

Author Affiliations

1 Office of the CEO, UW Medicine and Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Washington, Box 356350, Seattle, WA 98195-6350, USA

2 Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Box 356429, Seattle, WA 98195-4328, USA

3 Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, Maastricht University, P.O. Box 616, 6200, MD, Maastricht, the Netherlands

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BMC Medical Education 2013, 13:80  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-13-80

Published: 3 June 2013



Despite increasing attention to providing preclinical medical students with early patient experiences, little is known about associated outcomes for students. The authors compared three early patient experiences at a large American medical school where all preclinical students complete preceptorships and weekly bedside clinical-skills training and about half complete clinical, community-based summer immersion experiences. The authors asked, what are the relative outcomes and important educational components for students?


Medical students completed surveys at end of second year 2009–2011. In 2009, students compared/contrasted two of three approaches; responses framed later survey questions. In 2010 and 2011, students rated all three experiences in relevant areas (e.g., developing comfort in clinical setting). Investigators performed qualitative and quantitative analyses.


Students rated bedside training more highly for developing comfort with clinical settings, one-on-one clinical-skills training, feedback, active clinical experience, quality of clinical training, and learning to be part of a team. They rated community clinical immersion and preceptorships more highly for understanding the life/practice of a physician and career/specialty decisions.


Preclinical students received different benefits from the different experiences. Medical schools should define objectives of early clinical experiences and offer options accordingly. A combination of experiences may help students achieve clinical and team comfort, clinical skills, an understanding of physicians’ lives/practices, and broad exposure for career decisions.