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Open Access Research article

Beyond bricks and mortar: a rural network approach to preclinical medical education

Douglas L Myhre1, Paul Adamiak2*, Nathan Turley3, Ron Spice4 and Wayne Woloschuk5

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Family Medicine, University of Calgary, Faculty of Medicine, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

2 University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine in Calgary, HMRB G17, 3330 Hospital Drive NW, Calgary, AB T2N 4 N1, Canada

3 Department of Family Medicine, University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

4 Division of Palliative Medicine, University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

5 Faculty of Medicine at the University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada

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BMC Medical Education 2014, 14:166  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-14-166

Published: 9 August 2014



Countries with expansive rural regions often experience an unequal distribution of physicians between rural and urban communities. A growing body of evidence suggests that the exposure to positive rural learning experiences has an influence on a physician’s choice of practice location. Capitalizing on this observation, many medical schools have developed approaches that integrate rural exposure into their curricula during clerkship. It is postulated that a preclinical rural exposure may also be effective. However, to proceed further in development, accreditation requirements must be considered. In this investigation, academic equivalence between a preclinical rural community based teaching method and the established education model was assessed.


Two separate preclinical courses from the University of Calgary’s three year Undergraduate Medical program were taught at two different rural sites in 2010 (11 students) and 2012 (12 students). The same academic content was delivered in the pilot sites as in the main teaching centre. To ensure consistency of teaching skills, faculty development was provided at each pilot site. Academic equivalence between the rural based learners and a matched cohort at the main University of Calgary site was determined using course examination scores, and the quality of the experience was evaluated through learner feedback.


In both pilot courses there was no significant difference between examination scores of the rural distributed learners and the learners at the main University of Calgary site (p > 0.05). Feedback from the participating students demonstrated that the preceptors were very positively rated and, relative to the main site, the small group learning environment appeared to provide strengthened social support.


These results suggest that community distributed education in pre-clerkship may offer academically equivalent training to existing traditional medical school curricula while also providing learners with positive rural social learning environments. The approach described may offer the potential to increase exposure to rural practice without the cost of constructing additional physical learning sites.

Pre-clinical medical education; Distributed medical education; Rural medical education; Academic equivalence; Social learning