Medical Students as Agents of Change: A Qualitative Exploratory Study

Emma Burnett (Lead / Corresponding author), Peter Davey, Nicola M Gray, Vicki Tully, Jenna Breckenridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
147 Downloads (Pure)


Background: There is evidence that medical students have the potential to actively initiate, lead and bring about change through quality improvement within healthcare organisations. For effective change to occur, it is important that students are introduced to, and exposed to the value and necessity of quality improvement early in their careers. The aim of this study was to explore the perspectives and experiences of medical students and their mentors after undertaking quality improvement projects within the healthcare setting, and if such practice-based experiences were an effective way of building improvement capacity and changing practice.

Methods: A qualitative interpretive description methodology, using focus groups with medical students and semi-structured interviews with academic and clinical mentors following completion of students’ 4-week quality improvement projects was adopted.

Results: The findings indicate that there are a range of facilitators and barriers to undertaking and completing quality improvement projects in the clinical setting, such as time-scales, differing perspectives, roles and responsibilities between students and multidisciplinary healthcare professionals.

Conclusions: This study has demonstrated that quality improvement experiential learning can develop knowledge and skills among medical students and transform attitudes towards quality improvement. Furthermore, it can also have a positive impact on clinical staff and healthcare organisations. Despite inherent challenges, undertaking quality improvement projects in clinical practice enhances knowledge, understanding and skills, and allows medical students to see themselves as important influencers of change as future doctors.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere000420
Number of pages8
JournalBMJ Open Quality
Early online date4 Sept 2018
Publication statusPublished - 4 Sept 2018


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