Growth of medical knowledge


: B H Verhoeven, Leeuwarderstraat 2A, NL-9718 HX Groningen, The Netherlands. Tel.: 00 31 50 318 8871; Fax: 00 31 50 361 1725; E-mail:


Background  Knowledge is an essential component of medical competence and a major objective of medical education. Thus, the degree of acquisition of knowledge by students is one of the measures of the effectiveness of a medical curriculum. We studied the growth in student knowledge over the course of Maastricht Medical School's 6-year problem-based curriculum.

Methods  We analysed 60 491 progress test (PT) scores of 3226 undergraduate students at Maastricht Medical School. During the 6-year curriculum a student sits 24 PTs (i.e. four PTs in each year), intended to assess knowledge at graduation level. On each test occasion all students are given the same PT, which means that in year 1 a student is expected to score considerably lower than in year 6. The PT is therefore a longitudinal, objective assessment instrument. Mean scores for overall knowledge and for clinical, basic, and behavioural/social sciences knowledge were calculated and used to estimate growth curves.

Findings  Overall medical knowledge and clinical sciences knowledge demonstrated a steady upward growth curve. However, the curves for behavioural/social sciences and basic sciences started to level off in years 4 and 5, respectively. The increase in knowledge was greatest for clinical sciences (43%), whereas it was32% and 25% for basic and behavioural/social sciences, respectively.

Interpretation  Maastricht Medical School claims to offer a problem-based, student-centred, horizontally and vertically integrated curriculum in the first 4 years, followed by clerkships in years 5 and 6. Students learn by analysing patient problems and exploring pathophysiological explanations. Originally, it was intended that students’ knowledge of behavioural/social sciences would continue to increase during their clerkships. However, the results for years 5 and 6 show diminishing growth in basic and behavioural/social sciences knowledge compared to overall and clinical sciences knowledge, which appears to suggest there are discrepancies between the actual and the planned curricula. Further research is needed to explain this.