An innovative approach to teaching microbiology to undergraduates


  • Suman Singh,

  • Praveen Singh

Suman Singh, Pramukhswami Medical College, Karamsad-388325, Gujarat, India. Tel: 00 91 2692 241111, 00 91 99252 53218; Fax: 00 91 2692 223466; E-mail:

Context and setting

In Indian medical schools, microbiology is taught in classrooms and students are given very little exposure to the practical and clinical aspects of the subject. This makes the subject dry and clinically irrelevant as students fail to understand its utility in practice.

Why the idea was necessary

It is well accepted that the learning environment has a direct influence on the attainment and retention of knowledge. With this in mind, we introduced hospital-based project work in an effort to make the subject of microbiology interesting and clinically relevant. Our aim was to help students to shift their focus from classroom-based, predominantly didactic learning to inquiry-based learning by observation and reflection in the patient care setting. This shift in focus was expected to help forge a link between the theory and practice of microbiology.

What was done

Ethics clearance was received from our institutional review board. Topics for hospital project work that were relevant to student needs and demand were selected in consultation with the Faculty of Microbiology. Sterilisation and disinfection practices in hospital along with the collection and transportation of samples for microbial culture were selected for hospital projects. Students were randomly divided into equally sized test and control groups. The control group continued to learn microbiology conventionally. The test group was further divided into smaller groups, which were sent to the hospital for project work. These groups visited wards, operating theatres and laboratories, and also interviewed hospital staff. At least six or seven of these visits were made, each of 1–2 hours duration, according to the amount of time required by each activity to fulfil the objectives. The groups then reported on their visits in class.

Pre- and post-tests to assess knowledge gain were administered to the whole class and compared using t-test for statistical significance. Feedback questionnaires, using items scored on a 5-point scale as per Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model and measured for internal consistency and validity using Cronbach’s α score, were used to collect faculty staff and student perceptions of the intervention.

Evaluation of results and impact

Average scores on the pre- and post-tests improved significantly in the project group (from 9.64 to 16.28), compared with the control group (10.12 to 12.50).

Students appreciated the process as it gave them the opportunity to explore the subject of microbiology independently. Overall, 90% of students felt this kind of work would help them perform better in their later clinical practice, but responses were divided when students were asked whether such a project would help them perform better in university examinations. A total of 85% of the students felt the project was feasible for implementation for undergraduates. Generally, students indicated that the hospital visits had made the subject interesting and had helped them to understand the practical significance and relevance of the theory taught in the classroom.

Students acknowledged the project work as highly useful and relevant, but found it difficult to squeeze it into their already busy timetables. They also indicated a need for more motivation and support from hospital staff.

The process of sending undergraduate students on hospital visits in order to strengthen their grasp of important microbiology-related concepts represented a novel idea and was implemented successfully. The effort appears to have resulted in rewards for both teachers and students.