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Generic skills in medical education: developing the tools for successful lifelong learning


Deborah Murdoch-Eaton, Professor of Medical Education, School of Medicine, Leeds Institute of Medical Education, University of Leeds, Level 7 Worsley Building, Leeds LS2 9NL, UK. Tel: 00 44 113 343 4377/4301; Fax: 00 44 113 343 4910; E-mail:


Medical Education 2012: 46: 120–128

Context  Higher education has invested in defining the role of generic skills in developing effective, adaptable graduates fit for a changing workplace. Research confirms that the development of generic skills that underpin effectiveness and adaptability in graduates is highly context-dependent and is shaped by the discipline within which these skills are conceptualised, valued and taught. This places the responsibility for generic skills enhancement clearly within the remit of global medical education.

Implications  Many factors will influence the skill set with which students begin their medical training and experience at entry needs to be taken into account. Learning and teaching environments enhance effective skill development through active learning, teaching for understanding, feedback, and teacher–student and student–student interaction. Medical curricula need to provide students with opportunities to practise and develop their generic skills in a range of discipline-specific contexts. Curricular design should include explicit and integrated generic skills objectives against which students’ progress can be monitored. Assessment and feedback serve as valuable reinforcements of the professed importance of generic skills to both learner and teacher, and will encourage students to self-evaluate and take responsibility for their own skill development. The continual need for students to modify their practice in response to changes in their environment and the requirements of their roles will help students to develop the ability to transfer these skills at transition points in their training and future careers.

Conclusions  If they are to take their place in an ever-changing profession, medical students need to be competent in the skills that underpin lifelong learning. Only then will the doctors of the future be well placed to adapt to changes in knowledge, update their practice in line with the changing evidence base, and continue to contribute effectively as societal needs change.

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