A survey of staff attitudes to increasing medical undergraduate education in a district general hospital


Dr John B Macdonald MD, FRCP, Consultant Physician/Senior Lecturer in Medical Education, Cripps PGMC, Northampton General Hospital, Cliftonville, Northampton NN1 5BD, UK. Tel: 00 44 1604544943; Fax: 00 44 1604545590; E-mail: john.macdonald@ngh.nhs.uk


Introduction  Medical student numbers in Britain are increasing rapidly, beyond the capacity of most teaching hospitals, with more clinical teaching taking place in district general hospitals (DGHs). Surveys show that students value the intensive clinical teaching, smaller student numbers and perceived greater friendliness in DGHs. This paper explores DGH staff attitudes to teaching − their level of initial enthusiasm, their attitudes to current teaching, its effect on the hospital and to the sustainability of DGH undergraduate teaching − as both student numbers and service workloads continue to rise.

Methods  Semi-structured interviews with 6 key informants were used to generate themes for a 19-question pre-piloted anonymous postal questionnaire sent to all 68 staff involved in undergraduate medical teaching in Northampton General Hospital.

Results  The total response included 85% of consultants. Responses in the 3 staff groups were similar. Most respondents felt enthusiastic at the prospect of medical students, although they realised that this would be intellectually challenging and increase time pressures. These predictions were largely fulfilled. Respondents felt that in comparison to teaching hospitals the DGH teaching was more clinically based and consultant-led, with more approachable staff. Currently 41 respondents (82%) felt that they had inadequate teaching time. A majority felt that the arrival of students had improved patient care and that their department had benefited. Thirty-seven responders (74%) felt that the planned doubling of student numbers would impose an unsustainable departmental load, and would compromise teaching quality. The change felt most necessary to support additional teaching was increased clinical medical staff. Better co-ordination between the DGH and the medical school was also felt necessary. The most popular choice for the distribution of extra teaching finance was to the teacher's directorate, i.e. speciality [33 (66%)]. Forty-four (86%) felt that increased student numbers would have a significant impact on the character of the hospital. The 108 free-text comments (2.1 per respondent) centred on hospital character and the benefits of students.

Conclusions  This study shows a considerable initial enthusiasm for teaching in DGH staff, which is persisting despite increasing student numbers. However, the current teaching load is seen to be substantial. Teaching more students is likely to produce major problems, based on lack of teaching time and increasingly heavy service commitments rather than lack of patients. This is likely to be a widespread problem for DGHs. Failure to ensure adequate teaching staff and facilities as well as co-ordination could threaten the sustainability of this potentially valuable teaching initiative.