Endocrine Abstracts (2019) 65 P248 | DOI: 10.1530/endoabs.65.P248

Using problem-based learning (PBL) to engage undergraduate medical students in endocrinology at Edinburgh Medical School

Frederic T Pender1 & Steven D Morley2


1Medical Education, University of Edinburgh Medical School, Edinburgh, EH16 4SB, UK; 2Division of Health Sciences, University of Edinburgh Medical School, Edinburgh, EH16 4SB, UK


Background: Endocrinology, taught in Year 2 of the Edinburgh undergraduate MBChB curriculum to approximately 200 medical students, can present a complex challenge and a test of engagement. Core biomedical curriculum content is delivered as large group teaching (lectures) and then revisited in smaller groups (clinical-cased based tutorials, PBL) designed to integrate learning by applying basic knowledge in a clinical context. PBL first implemented in the 1960s at McMaster University Medical School by Barrows and Tamblyn, is a small group student-centred pedagogy in which students manage their own learning while practicing collaborative and empathetic skills. The aim in Edinburgh is to make the endocrine curriculum engaging and memorable through delivery of a PBL casebook of illustrative scenarios.

Methods: A series of vertically integrated endocrine scenarios covering gut-brain, thyroid, calcium, diabetes, hypothalamus−pituitary and reproduction have been developed as PBL cases delivered to students contemporaneously with relevant lecture and tutorial course material. For quality assurance, both the generic PBL case performance and specific student endocrine experience are evaluated each academic year by Likert five-point scale and free text response questionnaires.

Results: Responses to endocrine PBLs (2019–19 assessment) returned mainly five (definitely agree) and four (mostly agree) point anchors. Students considered that PBL ‘…reinforces biomedical science material’ (36.7%/56.7%) and ‘…provokes discussion’ (33.3%/46.7%). In addition, PBL scenarios‘… help search and research the evidence base’ (34.8%/56.6%), ‘… develop critical appraisal skills’ (26.1%/47.8%) and ‘…help me feel comfortable in first formulating, and second voicing ideas…’ (43.5%/43.5%). Crucially, quantitative data analysis allows comparison with previous years’ experience and appraisal of new or modified cases.

Conclusion: Endocrine PBL is highly rated by students as an opportunity to make learning memorable by applying and reinforcing basic biomedical knowledge in a more clinical context, promoting critical thinking and modelling clinical behaviour, while highlighting the patient-centred nature of the case scenarios.

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