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Medical students as agents of change: a qualitative exploratory study
  1. Emma Burnett1,
  2. Peter Davey2,
  3. Nicola Gray3,
  4. Vicki Tully2,
  5. Jenna Breckenridge1
  1. 1 School of Nursing and Health Sciences, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK
  2. 2 Population Health Sciences, University of Dundee, Dundee, UK
  3. 3 School of Nursing and Health Sciences, Scottish Improvement Science Collaborating Centre (SISCC), University of Dundee, Dundee, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Emma Burnett; e.burnett{at}


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.

  • continuous quality improvement
  • healthcare quality improvement
  • implementation science
  • medical education

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  • Contributors PD, NG, VT and JB planned the study. JB undertook the interviews and focus groups. EB conducted the data analysis and interpretation. EB was responsible for the overall content of this paper. PD, NG, VT and JB provided feedback and comments regarding the content of this paper. EB submitted the paper.

  • Funding The Scottish Improvement Science Collaborating Centre (SISCC) is funded by the Scottish Funding Council, Chief Scientist’s Office, NHS Education for Scotland and the Health Foundation, with substantial additional investment from partner organisations. The Health Foundation provided additional support for Bill Lucas to work with NHS Tayside and the University of Dundee.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.