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Year : 2012  |  Volume : 1  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 122-126  

Patients' Attitudes Towards Medical Students in a Teaching Family Practice: A Sri Lankan Experience

Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Ragama, Sri Lanka

Date of Web Publication20-Dec-2012

Correspondence Address:
R.P.J.C. Ramanayake
Department of Family Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, P.O. Box 6, Talagolla Road,Ragama
Sri Lanka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2249-4863.104982

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Background: Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka conducts a one month under graduate training programme during their fourth year at the University family practice centre. Students get training in history taking, clinical examination, patient management and practice management during this attachment. This study was conducted to look at the patients' attitude towards student participation during consultation. Materials and Methods: This was a descriptive cross sectional study. All the patients who were 16 years and above during a 2 month period were included in the study. Structured questionnaire was administered by demonstrators following a consultation where students were present. Their demographic data, number of consultations with student participation and questions related to presence of students at various stages of the consultation were asked. Results: Total of 85 patients took part in the study and 81.3% of them were females. 88.8% were of the opinion that they benefited by the interaction with medical students while 93.8% thought students understood their problems. 26.3% patients preferred a medical student of the same sex during consultation while 71.3 had not expressed any opinion in this regard. Only 3.8% and 5% wanted the doctor alone during history taking and examination respectively. Almost every patient was happy that they could help the undergraduate training. Discussion: As expected results of the study showed that patients were willing to take part in undergraduate training without any reservation. These results are compatible with the previous studies done in the western world and data is not available form either Sri Lanka or other Asian countries.

Keywords: Family practice, patients′ attitudes, undergraduates

How to cite this article:
Ramanayake R, Sumathipala W, Rajakaruna I, Ariyapala D. Patients' Attitudes Towards Medical Students in a Teaching Family Practice: A Sri Lankan Experience. J Family Med Prim Care 2012;1:122-6

How to cite this URL:
Ramanayake R, Sumathipala W, Rajakaruna I, Ariyapala D. Patients' Attitudes Towards Medical Students in a Teaching Family Practice: A Sri Lankan Experience. J Family Med Prim Care [serial online] 2012 [cited 2021 Sep 16];1:122-6. Available from: https://www.jfmpc.com/text.asp?2012/1/2/122/104982

  Introduction Top

With the introduction of family medicine into the undergraduate curriculum, teaching of undergraduate medical students in the setting of family/general practice has increased considerably during the past 20 years in Sri Lanka. Undoubtedly in future the contribution of general practice will see an incremental trend towards the student's training. Therefore, more practices will be needed to provide necessary training.

Medical schools globally [1],[2],[3],[4] have increased the share of community teaching by the increasing number of general practitioner teachers. [5],[6],[7],[8] General practitioner teachers have developed from their original role as teachers of behavioral science and general practice [9] into teachers of clinical skills, with excellent access to a wide range of patients. [10],[11] The General medical council's directive "Tomorrow's doctors (GMC,1993)" [12] recognized that the community setting offers a wealth of teaching opportunities to the medical students. This move has also been supported by the findings that community-based teaching is as effective as hospital-based teaching of basic clinical skills. [13],[14],[15]

The growing recognition of the fact that patients in teaching hospitals are not representative of the general population and an emphasis on community management of chronic disease have further strengthened the importance of undergraduate training in general practices. [16]

Teaching in family practices converts a duo activity into a trio one [17] and already complex interaction between patient and doctor becomes further complicated by the presence of a third party.

In a family practice patients are autonomous and majority of the patients are ambulatory. They spend only a limited time in a family practice unlike the admitted patients in hospitals and student participation could lead to delays. The personal and ongoing relationship with the family doctor is also a key part of the interaction in a family practice and involvement of students in the consultation could affect the doctor-patient relationship and interaction. Patient's consent to participate in medical education is often taken for granted and patients are not always aware of teaching activities. [18]

Researches in UK, USA and Australia looking at teaching in general practices suggest that patients are happy for a student to be present during consultation with their GP. [19],[20],[21],[22],[23],[24] One of the studies revealed that patients are a willing, but potentially under used resource for training medical students in general practice. [24]

No study has looked at the effect of students' presence on patients in hospitals or general practices in Sri Lanka and study could not be traced from the south Asian region either.

Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka conducts a one month under graduate training program during their fourth year at the University family practice center and students get training in history taking, clinical examination, patient management and practice management during this attachment. One student is present during a consultation inside the consultation room. This study looks at the patient's attitudes toward participation of students during consultation. It will also shed light on the present trend of creating teaching practices toward more patient centered approach.

  Materials and Methods Top

This descriptive, cross-sectional study was conducted at the University Family Practice. All the patients who were 16 years and above and consulted a doctor in the presence of a student during a 2 month period were included in the study. Seriously ill patients, confused or cognitively impaired patients and patients below 16 years were excluded. Younger patients were excluded since they may not be able to respond to the questionnaire and the opinion of the guardian could vary depending on the relationship to the patient. Structured questionnaire was administered by trained interviewers following a consultation where a student was present. Their demographic data and number of previous consultations with student participation were obtained in addition to the questions related to the presence of students at various stages of the consultation. Patients were also given an opportunity to express their views about participation of students in the clinic.

  Results Top

A total of 85 patients were included in the study and 81.3% of them were females. This clinic is conducted only in the mornings from Monday to Friday and therefore employed males find it difficult to attend [Figure 1] and [Figure 2].
Figure 1: Age distribution

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Figure 2: Educational status

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Previous consultations with student presence

For 34.4% of patients current consultation was the first consultation in the presence of medical students. For another 34.4% there were 1-3 previous consultations in the presence of students. The rest (31.2%) had more than 3 consultations with student participation prior to this.

Patients' views about student participation

  Discussion Top

The vast majority of patients had positive feedback about student participation during the consultation. In fact 88.6% patients were of the view that they rather benefited from interacting with the patients and all the patients have enjoyed interacting with students [Table 1]. These findings are in agreement with that previously obtained by other studies. Devera -Sales et al., [25] in a questionnaire study, found that 90% of patients would agree to students taking part in their care while Fiona and colleagues [19] found 97% patients had either positive or neutral feelings about the presence of students. Choudry, et al. [26] in a study conducted in London concluded that 92% agreed to allow a medical student to be present during consultation. Kevin Sweeney and colleagues has revealed that 97.5% of the patients would be willing to have a student during consultation in a study carried out in general practice settings in Australia. [22]
Table 1: Responses of patients

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Patients have expressed that they were able to know more details about the illness from students and students helped in revealing details to the doctor [Box 1]. Previous studies have revealed perceived benefits of student participation. Improvement of knowledge and improvement of care have been expressed as gains of student participation by Katie Coleman and colleagues. [27] Same study showed altruistic attitudes such as providing a service to the community through training future doctors, repaying the National Health Service (NHS) as well as assisting their doctor who provides ongoing care by taking part in teaching as reasons for their willingness to take part in teaching. Another study revealed patients were proud to be part of teaching or pleased to be part of the advancement of medicine. [18]

The fact that 95.5% patients felt comfortable even discussing personal problems in front of students is encouraging. This shows that doctor-patient interaction or the relationship is not affected to a greater extent by the presence of a student. This is in contrast to Wright [17] who found that the presence of a student may interfere with eliciting psychosocial components during consultation among 40% of the participants. O'Flynn, et al. [20] demonstrated that 30% of patients found it difficult to talk about personal matters. According to the views of general practice patients in Australia, [23] it is problematic to have students present during consultations that involve worrying test results, emotional upset, internal examinations, and sexual problems. GP teachers should be aware of circumstances where patients are less likely to want a student present and should talk to patients without students when sensitive personal information need to be elicited.

Preference by 26.3% of the patients for a student of the same gender needs to be considered seriously. The percentage of female patients who expressed this view was much more than males [Table 2]. Fiona, et al. [19] found that even though the large majority was unconcerned about the gender of the student, out of those who were concerned majority were females. In her study those who were concerned had commented that the nature of the complaint would influence the views on the importance of the gender of the student. According to Choudry, et al. [26] for 21.5% patients, gender of the student mattered.
Table 2: Patients' preference for student of same gender

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15.9% expressed that they wanted time alone with the doctor during consultation and doctors should be alert to this and offer that opportunity to patients. This fact has been revealed by Fiona, et al.[19] also. That study has further revealed that patients would rarely directly ask the doctor if they could consult the doctor alone.

When specifically questioned about students' presence during history taking and examination there was a slight increase in the number who likes doctor only during examination compared to history taking [Figure 3]. Karen Salisbury and colleagues found that 89.7% patients would accept students during history taking compared to 70.4% during examination. [23]
Figure 3: Patients' views on student participation during history taking and examination

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Even though there was only one negative comment that needs to be taken seriously [Box 2], Shier and colleagues [28] found considerable ignorance among students on the confidentiality issue and in O'Flynn's study, [20] patients expressed concern that students would talk about them after work. Students should be instructed not to discuss patients in a careless manner.

Acceptance of students by the vast majority of the patients may be an expression that the over all quality of the consultation is not affected by the presence of students. Fiona, et al.[19] concluded that most respondents (83%) felt that the presence of a student made no difference while 17% felt that presence of a student improved the quality of interaction.

Price and colleagues revealed that the quality of general practice consultations was not adversely affected by the presence of medical students [29] and another study showed patients' enablement or satisfaction was not reduced after teaching consultations compared with non-teaching consultations. [30]

Response to specific questions as well as their free expressions are quite reassuring and revealed the positive attitude of the over helming majority of the patients attending this clinic. The findings of this research will be reassuring for doctors who are presently involved in teaching and those who plan to be involved in the future.


This clinic is a non fee levying family practice attached to the university. Further studies should be carried out in fee levying general practices with a larger study sample to determine whether the attitudes and responses are similar among patients in fee levying practices.

  Conclusions Top

Patients are willing to have students during consultation and the doctor-patient interaction or the relationship is not affected to a greater extent by the presence of a student. Trainers and medical educationists should consider the preference by a significant proportion of the patients for a student of the same gender. Opportunity should be given to patients to talk to the doctor without students and patients' consent should be obtained before proceeding with examination. Students should be advised to maintain confidentiality and the findings of this study are reassuring for doctors involved in training undergraduates in ambulatory care settings. This study reflects the positive attitude of the patients towards students which is the trend in western countries as well.

Take home message

Patients have positive attitudes towards students. Patients think interaction with students is beneficial. Patients should be given the opportunity to consult the doctor without students if they wish. Students should be strictly advised to maintain confidentiality [Box 3[Additional file 1]].

  References Top

1.Association for the Study of Medical Education. Curriculum innovations: Descriptions of undergraduate medical courses in the UK. Edinburgh: ASME; 1997.  Back to cited text no. 1
2.Lefford F, McCrorie P, Perrin F.A survey of medical undergraduate community­based teaching: Taking undergraduate teaching into the community. Med Educ 1994;28:312­5.  Back to cited text no. 2
3.Davis WK, Jolly BC, Page GG, Rothman AI. Moving medical education from the hospital to the community. A current review of teaching medical students in community­based settings. Report of the seventh Cambridge conference on medi­ cal education. Michigan: University of Michigan; 1997.  Back to cited text no. 3
4.Inui TS, Williams WT Jr, Goode L, Anderson RJ, Bhak KN, Forsyth JD, et al. Sustaining the development of primary care in academic medicine Working group on sustaining the development of academic primary care. Acad Med 1998;73:245-57.  Back to cited text no. 4
5.Whitehouse CR. Planning for community­oriented medical education in Manchester. Education for Health 1996;9:45­59.  Back to cited text no. 5
6.Macfarlane F, McLennan E, Murray E, Wallace P, editors. cement project report. London: Cement; 1998.  Back to cited text no. 6
7.Martens FM, van der Vleuten CP, Grol RP, op't Root JM, Crebolder HF, Rethans JJ. Educational objectives and requirements of an undergraduate clerkship in general practice. The outcome of a consensus procedure. Fam Pract 1997;14:153­9.  Back to cited text no. 7
8.Fields SA, Usatine R, Stearns JA, Toffler WL, Vinson DC. The use and compensation of community preceptors in US medical schools. Acad Med 1998;73:95­7.  Back to cited text no. 8
9.Towle A. Community based teaching. Sharing ideas 1. London: King's Fund Centre; 1992.  Back to cited text no. 9
10.Parle JV, Greenfield SM, Skelton J, Lester H, Hobbs FD. Acquisition of basic clinical skills in the general practice setting. Med Educ 1997;31:99-104.  Back to cited text no. 10
11.Oswald NT. Teaching clinical methods to medical students. Med Educ 1993;27:351­4.  Back to cited text no. 11
12.General Medical Council. Tomorrow's doctors: Recommendations on undergraduate medical education. London: GMC; 1993.  Back to cited text no. 12
13.Murray E, Jolly B, Model M. Can students learn clinical method in general practice? A randomized crossover trial based on objective structured clinical examinations. Br Med J 1997;315:920-3.  Back to cited text no. 13
14.Berg D. Sebastian J, Heudebert G. Development, Implementation and evaluation of an advanced physical diagnosis course for senior medical students. Acad Med 1994;69:758-64.  Back to cited text no. 14
15.Satran L. Harris IB, Anderson DC, Poland GA, Miller WL. Hospital based versus community based clinical education: Comparing performances and course evaluation by students in their second year paediatrics rotation. Acad Med 1993;68:380-2.  Back to cited text no. 15
16.Thistlewaite J, Jacobs H, Rudolphy S. Undergraduate general practice attachments: Implications and challenges. Aust Fam Physician 2005;34:181-2.  Back to cited text no. 16
17.Wright HJ. Patients' Attitudes to Medical Students in General Practice. BMJ 1974;1:372-6.  Back to cited text no. 17
18.Monnickendam SM, Vinker S, Zalewski S, Cohen O, Kitai E. Patients' attitudes towards the presence of medical students in family practice consultations. Isr Med Assoc J 2001;3:903-6.  Back to cited text no. 18
19.Cooke F, Galasko G, Ramrakha V, Richards D, Rose A, Watkins J. Medical students in general practice: How do patients feel? Br J Gen Pract 1996;46:361-2.  Back to cited text no. 19
20.O'Flynn N, Spencer J, Jones R. Does teaching during a general practice consultation affect patient care? Br J Gen Pract 1999;49:7-9.  Back to cited text no. 20
21.Anderson J, Howe A. Involving patients in medical education. BMJ 2003;327:326-8.  Back to cited text no. 21
22.Sweeney K, Magin P, Pond D. Patient attitudes, Training students in general practice. Aust Fam Physician 2010;39:676-82.  Back to cited text no. 22
23.Salisbury K, Farmer EA, Vnuk A. Patients' views on the training of medical students in Australian general practice settings. Aust Fam Physician 2004;33:192-288.  Back to cited text no. 23
24.Hudson JN, Weston KM, Farmer EE, Ivers RG, Pearson RW. Are patients willing participants in the new wave of community based medical education in regional and rural Australia?. Med J Aust 2010;3:150-3.  Back to cited text no. 24
25.Devera-Sales A, Paden C, Vinson DC. What do family medicine patients think about medical students' participation in their health care? Acad Med 1999;74:550-2.  Back to cited text no. 25
26.Choudhury TR, Moosa AA, Cushing A, Bestwick J. Patients' attitudes towards the presence of medical students during consultations. Med Teach 2006;28:198-203.  Back to cited text no. 26
27.Coleman K, Murray E. Patients' views and feelings on the community-based teaching of undergraduate medical students: A qualitative study. Fam Pract 2002;19:183-8.  Back to cited text no. 27
28.Shier I, Green S, Solin J, Duarte-Franco E, Guibert R, Brousseau G, et al. Knowledge of and attitude toward patient confidentiality within three family medicine teaching units. Acad Med 1998;73:710-2.  Back to cited text no. 28
29.Price R, Spencer J, Walker J. Does the presence of medical students affect quality in general practice consultations? Med Educ 2008;42:374-81.  Back to cited text no. 29
30.Benson J, Quince T, Hibble A, Fanshawe T, Emery J. Impact on patients of expanded, general practice based, student teaching: Observational and qualitative study. BMJ 2005;331:89.  Back to cited text no. 30


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3]

  [Table 1], [Table 2]

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