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The application of basic science concepts to clinical problem-solving


Professor John I. Balla, Postgraduate Medical Education Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Hong Kong, 7 Sassoon Road, Hong Kong.


Summary: Summary. This study looks at the relationship between anatomical concepts held by medical students and their clinical application, and develops a testable model of how students use basic science concepts for clinical problem-solving. According to the model, the essential prerequisites to solve a clinical problem using basic science information include the appropriate basic science knowledge, the ability to collect and interpret clinical information, with the key concept being the link that must then be made between clinical data and basic science. A detailed analysis of the individual components of the model should help to clarify and resolve some of the debate about the nature and balance of basic science and clinical education.

A neurological diagnostic problem was used to test the assumptions of the model in a group of medical students who had minimal clinical experiences. There was no demonstrable relationship between anatomical knowledge as assessed by conventional tests and the diagnosis. There was a powerful relationship between measures of organization of knowledge and diagnosis, suggesting that the organization and development of concepts is the key to correct diagnosis.

The findings have significant implications for assessment purposes and suggest that standard methods as generally practised may not measure the appropriate conceptual development and are not congruent with curricular objectives. Through the examination of its different learning outcome measures, the model may also be used to provide a profile of individual students or classes, which should help teachers and students deal with difficulties that may be experienced in learning to link clinical and basic science concepts.

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