Barriers to Learning Clinical Reasoning: a Qualitative Study of Medicine Clerkship Students

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Clinical reasoning is crucial to good patient care, but both learning and applying clinical reasoning skills in the context of a complex working environment can be challenging. We sought to understand the perceived barriers to learning clinical reasoning, as experienced by internal medicine clerkship students at our institution. We invited internal medicine clerkship students to participate in focus groups to discuss their experiences with and barriers to learning clinical reasoning. A survey was administered to gather additional responses. Responses were reviewed, coded, and synthesized to identify key themes. Twenty-nine medicine clerkship students (male = 14, female = 15) participated in six 60-minute focus groups, and 121 (61% response rate) students responded to the barriers to clinical reasoning survey from March 2018 to May 2019. We identified three themes (clerkship acclimation, data access, and practice optimization) and ten subthemes as aspects of the clerkship environment that impacted students’ ability to develop clinical reasoning skills. Students identified barriers to learning clinical reasoning during the internal medicine clerkship. The themes “clerkship acclimation” and “data access” were identified as prerequisites to clinical reasoning while the theme “practice optimization” described key components of the deliberate practice of clinical reasoning. Educators and health systems may improve the development of clinical reasoning by recognizing and overcoming these barriers within clinical learning environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1495-1502
Number of pages8
JournalMedical Science Educator
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Education


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