Introduction There are data that suggest that medical students do not feel sufficiently prepared for clinical practice in the clerkships. The transition from pre-clinical to clinical training causes problems.
Objectives To seek quantitative verification of qualitative findings from an earlier focus group study on problems medical students encounter when entering the clinical phase of undergraduate training.
Methods At the start of the clinical phase, all Year 4 students at Maastricht Medical School were surveyed on the transition from pre-clinical to clinical training and its effects on workload, knowledge, skills and learning.
Results The response rate was 67%. Students were uncertain as to how to behave and act, mainly because they did not know what was expected of them. They experienced a drastic increase in workload and a lack of time for studying. They considered themselves to be moderately prepared with regard to knowledge and they regarded their physical examination skills as satisfactory. Students reported having difficulty applying theoretical knowledge in clinical practice and perceived shortcomings in basic science knowledge. In addition, they felt compelled to change their learning strategies.
Discussion The results of this study confirm the findings of the focus group study. The students experienced problems related to professional socialisation and workload and deficiencies in knowledge and the organisation of knowledge. A good starting point for improvement may involve exploring students' suggestions of an extensive introduction into the clerkships, a more gradual transition with regard to workload and closer integration of pre-clinical and clinical education.