PBL experiences?

I’ve just started my pre-reqs, so it’ll be a while before I’m (hopefully) a medical student. But I figure it’s not too early to think about what I’m looking for in a medical school.

I really enjoy (and find I benefit from) interactive learning, so I’m attracted to the idea of PBL-style instruction (or a hybrid), but I’ve heard mixed things about it. So I’m wondering: anyone care to share their experiences with PBL or a hybrid-style medical education? I’m really curious to hear what people have to say.


From the perspective of someone who’s just finishing the interview season for incoming residents (i.e. 4th yr students), I don’t see too much difference between the PBL schools vs. traditional or hybrid academics. The students’ knowledge base and clinical performance on rotations are pretty comparable. The institution where I teach is hybrid since 2004 (previously traditional academic). Although there was some initial grumbling among faculty, it was a move whose time had come. Teaching medicine has to advance along with the practice of medicine, which is the impetus behind most programs incorporating at least some PBL into their curricula. There is better retention of knowledge when there is an immediate application for it, one of the tenets of PBL. The perceived problem with strictly PBL programs is the lack of a traditional study/test structure which is difficult for some students coming right out of college, but not so much for non-trads. Anyway, go with the type of program where you feel most comfortable when it comes time to choose a school. You will likely excel in either scenario.

In that vein, can anyone comment on definitely non-PBL schools they have attended or heard of? Happy to discuss cases once someday I get some knowledge, but (as a veteran of many educational experiments) straight PBL sounds like my idea of Hell.


I attend a strictly non-PBL MD school, and it’s its own version of hell. We take the basic sciences in a very traditional format - lectures on normal systems the first year (physiology, biochem, etc) and then “diseased” systems the second (microbiology, pathophys, pharma). As someone who works best researching and integrating different information, I personally find it boring to just take notes and memorize facts with very little clinical application and no active synthesis on my part… While I enjoy being in med school, the structure (if not the difficulty) reminds me more of being in 10th grade science class more than anything else.

On the other hand, my friends in PBL schools have sometimes been frustrated by having to constantly depend upon less-than-mature fellow students, or aggressive “gunners” who don’t “play well with others”. If you sit in on a class at any of the med schools you are considering (especially PBL ones), that can give you a better idea of which environment you might prefer. Good luck!

Well my school, up until our year, had a PBL and an SBL (sytems-based learning) track. The PBL students are continuing PBL, but they are phasing that out, so it was not an option for me. Instead, they have tried to incorporate some aspects of PBL into our curriculum this year, and are changing the curriculum to “Case-Based Learning” (which sounds like PBL but apparently is a third, different animal).

We have had rather standard lecture delivery of content for 1st year courses - Anatomy, Clinical Skills, Osteopathic Principles and Practices, Microanatomy/Histology, Physiology, Neuroscience (thus far). But most of the courses included some team-based learning. For Anatomy, each week our anatomy group had to prepare several case studies (from Lachman’s case studies - clinical implications of what we were studying in anatomy). Then the whole class got together and a group would be picked to “present” each case study and answer questions from the professors and GTA’s about it. Pulled our group numbers out of a had so your group was always fair game. I think the professors enjoyed grilling us just a little too much

Most lecturers include a case study in their lecture for the day with "clicker " questions about it and discussion at the end of the principles. In physiology, we have team learning where we take a quiz, then the team takes the same quiz as a group, with a “scratch card” for the answer - we get full credit if our consensus answer is right on first try, and half-credit for right on second try, none for third guess, but at least we find out right away what the answer is. Then we have a case with several questions, and have to write out our rationale for the answers we chose. This gets turned in, and actually your group gets credit if the rationale is sound, even if you don’t pick the best answer. Then each group holds up a board for their answer to the question, at the same time, so you get to see the range of answers. Several groups are picked to discuss why they chose that answer (sometimes the lone different answer turns out to be the correct one!). This is actually one of my favorite study activities of the week - stimulates lots of good thinking and making of connections.

That’s it for my (exhaustive) description of our sort of hybrid.

Thanks for your comments, everyone. I’m not sure what kind of style will suit me best, and of course depending on where you get accepted you may not have a choice, but this “insider” information helps!