Residents' perspectives on the final year of medical school

Bridget C. O’Brien1, Brian Niehaus2, Arianne Teherani1 and John Q. Young2

1Department of Medicine and Office of Medical Education, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA

2Department of Psychiatry, School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, CA, USA

Submitted: 23/02/2012; Accepted: 01/08/2012; Published: 07/08/2012

Int J Med Educ. 2012; 3:151-158; doi: 10.5116/ijme.5019.6b01

© 2012 Bridget C. O’Brien et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use of work provided the original work is properly cited. http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

Objectives: To characterize junior residents' perspectives on the purpose, value, and potential improvement of the final year of medical school.

Methods: Eighteen interviews were conducted with junior residents who graduated from nine different medical schools and who were in internal medicine, surgery, and psychiatry programs at one institution in the United States. Interview transcripts were coded and analyzed inductively for themes.

Results: Participants' descriptions of the purpose of their recently completed final year of medical school contained three primary themes: residency-related purposes, interest- or need-based purposes, and transitional purposes. Participants commented on the most valued aspects of the final year. Themes included opportunities to: prepare for residency; assume a higher level of responsibility in patient care; pursue experiences of interest that added breadth of knowledge, skills and perspective; develop and/or clarify career plans; and enjoy a period of respite. Suggestions for improvement included enhancing the learning value of clinical electives, augmenting specific curricular content, and making the final year more purposeful and better aligned with career goals.

Conclusions: The final year of medical school is a critical part of medical education for most learners, but careful attention is needed to ensure that the year is developmentally robust. Medical educators can facilitate this by creating structures to help students define personal and professional goals, identify opportunities to work toward these goals, and monitor progress so that the value of the final year is optimized and not exclusively focused on residency preparation.