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An exploration of the use of problem-based learning at allopathic family medicine residency programs in the United States




Benè, Kristen Leigh, author
Most, David, advisor
Timpson, William, advisor
Anderson, Sharon, committee member
Bright, Alan, committee member
Marvel, M. Kim, committee member

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Background: Problem-based learning (PBL) is a learner-centered approach that allows learners to be self-directed and learn content in the context where it will be applied. Recent research on outcomes shows strong evidence for a positive impact on physician competency. PBL was designed by Barrows to teach students in the preclinical medical school years; however, it is an approach well suited for adult learners, like those at the graduate medical education level. It is not known whether and to what extent PBL is used in graduate medical education in any specialty. This study provides an original contribution to knowledge by describing the use of PBL in graduate medical education specifically focusing on family medicine. Method: Surveys were sent to program directors at 444 allopathic family medicine residency programs in the United States. Results: One hundred seventy five programs (39.4%) responded to the survey. Of those responding, 82.9% used PBL as defined in this study; however only one-third of respondents used the term PBL at their programs. Use of PBL did not vary by program types or program location. Almost all (97.2%) programs used physician faculty to facilitate PBL and over half (56%) trained PBL facilitators with formal faculty development. Over 90% of programs relied on actual patient cases to provide case content for PBL. The majority of program directors felt their implementation of PBL was a success. Conclusions: PBL is widely used at family medicine residency programs and there is great consistency across programs for facilitator training, case creation, and perceptions of success with this method. It is a method that warrants further study based on its broad use.


2013 Spring.
Includes bibliographical references.

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medical education
problem-based learning
residency education
teaching methods


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