Open Access Research article

Medical students' and facilitators' experiences of an Early Professional Contact course: Active and motivated students, strained facilitators

Bernhard von Below124*, Gunilla Hellquist1, Stig Rödjer13, Ronny Gunnarsson14, Cecilia Björkelund1 and Mats Wahlqvist1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Public Health and Community Medicine/Primary Health Care, The Sahlgrenska Academy at University of Gothenburg, PO Box 454, SE-405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden

2 Floda Primary Health Care Center, Southern Älvsborg County, Rurik Holms väg, S-448 30 Floda, Sweden

3 Section of Hematology, Department of Medicine, Sahlgrenska University Hospital, S-413 45 Gothenburg, Sweden

4 Research and Development Unit, Primary Health Care, Southern Älvsborg County, Sven Eriksonsplatsen 4, plan 2, S-503 38 Borås, Sweden

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BMC Medical Education 2008, 8:56  doi:10.1186/1472-6920-8-56

Published: 2 December 2008



Today, medical students are introduced to patient contact, communication skills, and clinical examination in the preclinical years of the curriculum with the purpose of gaining clinical experience. These courses are often evaluated from the student perspective. Reports with an additional emphasis on the facilitator perspective are scarce. According to constructive alignment, an influential concept from research in higher education, the learning climate between students and teachers is also of great importance. In this paper, we approach the learning climate by studying both students' and facilitators' course experiences.

In 2001, a new "Early Professional Contact" longitudinal strand through term 1–4, was introduced at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden. General practitioners and hospital specialists were facilitators.

The aim of this study was to assess and analyse students' and clinical facilitators' experiences of the Early Professional Contact course and to illuminate facilitators' working conditions.


Inspired by a Swedish adaptation of the Course Experience Questionnaire, an Early Professional Contact Questionnaire was constructed. In 2003, on the completion of the first longitudinal strand, a student and facilitator version was distributed to 86 students and 21 facilitators. In the analysis, both Chi-square and the Mann-Whitney tests were used.


Sixty students (70%) and 15 facilitators (71%) completed the questionnaire. Both students and facilitators were satisfied with the course. Students reported gaining iiration for their future work as doctors along with increased confidence in meeting patients. They also reported increased motivation for biomedical studies. Differences in attitudes between facilitators and students were found. Facilitators experienced a greater workload, less reasonable demands and less support, than students.


In this project, a new Early Professional Contact course was analysed from both student and facilitator perspectives. The students experienced the course as providing them with a valuable introduction to the physician's professional role in clinical practice. In contrast, course facilitators often experienced a heavy workload and lack of support, despite thorough preparatory education. A possible conflict between the clinical facilitator's task as educator and member of the workplace is suggested. More research is needed on how doctors combine their professional tasks with work as facilitators.