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Learning pharmacology in a problem-based learning medical curriculum

Published: 01 July 2022

The results of a joint research project between the University of Nicosia Research Foundation and St George’s, University of London investigating the effectiveness of pharmacology teaching in a problem-based learning medical curriculum have recently been presented in both institutions. The findings suggest that a problem-based learning curriculum can address diverse learning needs, but that further instructional support is needed to enhance student learning when it comes to the basics of pharmacology and the prescribing of drugs.

The project, which received competitive funding from the Research and Innovation Foundation in Cyprus, was coordinated by Dr Soulla Nicolaou of the University of Nicosia. Professor Anthony Albert and Dr Andrew Hitchings were responsible for coordinating project-related activities at St George’s. It sought to understand whether the problem- based learning curriculum currently taught as part of the medical programmes at both the University of Nicosia and St George’s, was satisfactory for student’s pharmacology learning in pre-clinical years as well as the acquisition of prescribing skills in clinical years.

To do this, the performance of St George’s and University of Nicosia medical students in pharmacology and prescribing safety assessments were examined. In addition, students were invited to interviews and focus groups to discuss their perceptions of their learning experience.

The results showed that pharmacology teaching in a problem-based learning curriculum may be effective for diverse learners, irrespective of educational institution, gender, ethnicity, country of origin, native language, and age. Even though a background in biomedical sciences offered an advantage in Year 1, all students, independently of educational background, benefited equally as they progressed in their studies. However, there was variability in the confidence expressed by students when prescribing drugs. This was attributed to not having the required depth of knowledge for each drug being prescribed. Similar issues were raised by students across different year groups, while the results from the survey were consistent with those from the qualitative study.

Principal Investigator of the project, Dr Soulla Nicolaou, said of the project, “With a very diverse student population, it is important that our findings showed that a PBL-based medical programme can address their differing needs. We can further address learning needs and improve confidence in prescribing by curriculum interventions.

Professor Anthony Albert added, “We hope our findings will ultimately contribute to reducing medication errors through further improving medical training in clinical pharmacology and therapeutics.”

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