When people ask me if I am enjoying medical school, they are surprised to hear that my answer is an astounding YES! One of the main reasons for this is the problem-based learning (PBL) approach used at my school. Problem Based Learning is a unique approach introduced by McMaster University in 1969 which immerses students in a case and enables them to problem-solve their way to its resolution. The focus of PBL is hence more on the journey and the questions asked and answered rather than solving the problem at hand. The rationale behind this is that students learn the most when they find answers to questions they asked. Additionally, students also have the chance to synthesize this information and apply it to the problem to further solidify their learning.
Our entire pre-clinical/clerkship curriculum is divided by organ systems and consists of 35 – 20 realistic but simulated patient cases. These cases are the starting point for PBL. The patient case is written up similar to a consult note with the history of presenting illness, relevant past medical and surgical history, current medications and allergies and relevant family and social history. It also concludes the physical exam component and relevant findings as well as the investigations and laboratory values whenever necessary. It would also include any imaging scans, or histopathological slides if relevant and for some of the more visual pathologies pictures of lesions and physical exam findings as well. The case includes almost everything besides the diagnosis which at times is given as a global learning objective. However, often it is left up to the students to figure out under the guidance of a tutor who is usually a medical professional. Furthermore, over the course of the organ system block, the cases become more complex and integrate other organ systems.
This may sound confusing, but over the next few posts, I will highlight the ins and outs of the McMaster PBL Method and what it looks like in action during our tutorial sessions.