JOURNAL ARTICLE

Medical students' experiences learning intimate physical examination skills: a qualitative study

Andra M Dabson, Parker J Magin, Gaynor Heading, Dimity Pond
BMC Medical Education 2014, 14: 39
24575827

BACKGROUND: Intimate physical examination skills are essential skills for any medical graduate to have mastered to an appropriate level for the safety of his or her future patients. Medical schools are entrusted with the complex task of teaching and assessing these skills for their students. The objectives of this study were to explore a range of medical students' experiences of learning intimate physical examination skills and to explore their perceptions of factors which impede or promote the learning of these skills.

METHODS: Individual semi-structured interviews (N = 16) were conducted with medical students in years two to five from the University of Newcastle, as part of a larger research project investigating how medical students develop their attitudes to gender and health. This was a self-selected sample of the entire cohort who were all invited to participate. A thematic analysis of the transcribed data was performed.

RESULTS: Students reported differing levels of discomfort with their learning experiences in the area of intimate physical examination and differing beliefs about the helpfulness of these experiences. The factors associated with levels of discomfort and the helpfulness of the experience for learning were: satisfaction with teaching techniques, dealing with an uncomfortable situation and perceived individual characteristics in both the patients and the students. The examination causing the greatest reported discomfort was the female pelvic examination by male students.

CONCLUSIONS: Student discomfort with the experience of learning intimate physical examination skills may be common and has ongoing repercussions for students and patients. Recommendations are made of ways to modify teaching technique to more closely match students' perceived needs.

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