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Keywords:

  • education;
  • medical;
  • undergraduate/*methods;
  • international co-operation;
  • learning/*methods;
  • culture;
  • Netherlands

Objective  To explore the learning processes of undergraduate medical students undertaking international traineeships.

Methods  Semi-structured, in-depth interviews were conducted with 24 undergraduate medical students from Maastricht University Medical School, the Netherlands. The 24 subjects were selected by purposeful sampling. Research methods resembled the grounded theory method. Although the data were initially gathered for an earlier study, the richness of the data enabled renewed scrutiny.

Results  The data yielded the following categories concerning the description of the learning processes: motivation, preparation, internal supervisor, external supervisor, assessment, and positive and negative incidents. The majority of supervisors' influences on the learning process were facilitative or negligible. Socio-cultural differences between students and supervisors sometimes appeared to blur productive learning. The greater proportion of the students seemed to learn by ‘experiential learning’, a smaller proportion learned by ‘active learning’, and the learning of a very small minority of the students appeared to be ‘guided’.

Discussion  Although experiential learning seemed to be the dominant learning process, it is not clear whether this is also the most fruitful approach to learning. It could be argued that structuring learning outcomes by a more active learning process might be more effective. To guide the learning process and learning outcomes, it might be advisable to develop guidelines for writing international traineeship reports. Supervision of these reports should be more co-ordinated to prevent arbitrariness and to scaffold active learning.