Studies have shown that medical students experience the transition between preclinical and clinical training as a stressful period. They are generally frustrated by their inability to apply their knowledge to solve clinical problems in practice. Preclinical patient contacts may offer a solution to this 'shock of practice.' We studied how students who have had preclinical patient contacts perceive the transition from preclinical to clinical training and, more specifically, how they value these early patient contacts as preparation for learning in clinical practice.
A purposive sample of 21 students participated in three focus groups which met twice during their first weeks of clinical clerkships. The interviews were recorded and transcribed literally. Qualitative content analysis of the transcriptions was performed.
According to the students, working in clinical practice was enjoyable, motivated them to study and helped them to develop non-analytical reasoning skills. The students experienced stress due to increased working hours and work load, uncertainty as to what was expected of them and self-perceived lack of knowledge. They did not experience a major gap between the preclinical and clinical phase and felt well prepared for the clerkships. The preclinical patient contacts were considered to be instrumental in this.
Early patient contacts seem to ameliorate the shock of practice and prepare students for clinical work. The problems mentioned by the students in this study are mainly related to the socialisation process. The results of this study have to be validated by quantitative research.