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The Analysis of Teaching of Medical Schools ( AToMS ) survey: an analysis of 47,258 timetabled teaching events in 25 UK medical schools relating to timing, duration, teaching formats, teaching content, and problem-based learning

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Devine, Oliver Patrick  ORCID logo
Harborne, Andrew Christopher  ORCID logo
Horsfall, Hugo Layard  ORCID logo
Marshall-Andon, Tess  ORCID logo


Abstract: Background: What subjects UK medical schools teach, what ways they teach subjects, and how much they teach those subjects is unclear. Whether teaching differences matter is a separate, important question. This study provides a detailed picture of timetabled undergraduate teaching activity at 25 UK medical schools, particularly in relation to problem-based learning (PBL). Method: The Analysis of Teaching of Medical Schools (AToMS) survey used detailed timetables provided by 25 schools with standard 5-year courses. Timetabled teaching events were coded in terms of course year, duration, teaching format, and teaching content. Ten schools used PBL. Teaching times from timetables were validated against two other studies that had assessed GP teaching and lecture, seminar, and tutorial times. Results: A total of 47,258 timetabled teaching events in the academic year 2014/2015 were analysed, including SSCs (student-selected components) and elective studies. A typical UK medical student receives 3960 timetabled hours of teaching during their 5-year course. There was a clear difference between the initial 2 years which mostly contained basic medical science content and the later 3 years which mostly consisted of clinical teaching, although some clinical teaching occurs in the first 2 years. Medical schools differed in duration, format, and content of teaching. Two main factors underlay most of the variation between schools, Traditional vs PBL teaching and Structured vs Unstructured teaching. A curriculum map comparing medical schools was constructed using those factors. PBL schools differed on a number of measures, having more PBL teaching time, fewer lectures, more GP teaching, less surgery, less formal teaching of basic science, and more sessions with unspecified content. Discussion: UK medical schools differ in both format and content of teaching. PBL and non-PBL schools clearly differ, albeit with substantial variation within groups, and overlap in the middle. The important question of whether differences in teaching matter in terms of outcomes is analysed in a companion study (MedDifs) which examines how teaching differences relate to university infrastructure, entry requirements, student perceptions, and outcomes in Foundation Programme and postgraduate training.



Research Article, Medical school differences, Teaching styles, Problem-based learning, Timetables, Lectures, Tutorials, Clinical teaching, Self-regulated learning

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BMC Medicine

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BioMed Central