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Different Medical School Teaching Styles Explained

Words: Gar Mun Lau

Why do you need to know about different medical school teaching styles?

It is necessary:

· At interview, where you may be assessed on your insight into the course

· When selecting which medical schools to apply to

You may think, medicine is medicine at the end of the day, does it really matter how it’s taught? It does! Whilst all medical programmes should prepare you to become a foundation year doctor, not all employ the same teaching style, and some may even use a combination. Medicine is content heavy and can be very intense at times. The teaching style can make all the difference as to how efficiently you learn and absorb information, and ultimately affects your grades and clinical performance. Therefore, you should take the time to think about what kind of teaching style will allow you to learn best. Everyone is different when it comes to learning, don’t be easily influenced by what others think or say!

Hopefully, this summary informs your decisions as to which medical school teaching styles you prefer and facilitates shortlisting of universities.

Medical school teaching can be broadly categorised in 4 different ways:

  1. Traditional

  2. PBL or Problem-Based Learning

  3. Integrated

  4. CBL/ Case-Based Learning

1. Traditional

The course is split up into pre-clinical and clinical years.

During the first two or three preclinical years, students have lectures and tutorials in pure science, as opposed to learning clinical case studies. There is generally very little, if not no exposure to clinical settings in these years. The curriculum may be divided according to scientific fields of physiology, histology, anatomy and so forth, what is known as a subject-based approach.

In clinical years, students will be taught in a clinical setting, such as hospitals and GP surgeries.

It is important to note that traditional courses often require a lot of essay writing!

2. PBL

PBL encourages students to self-direct their own learning. Students are often placed in small groups with given scenarios to discuss about. From these scenarios, you should formulate your own objectives and aims, as opposed to being given them, although often times a facilitator will be present to facilitate discussion. The idea behind PBL is for students to use the learning points they generated themselves to help guide their learning at home or clinical placements.

3. Integrated

Majority of medical schools have adapted this approach. Theoretical knowledge is taught alongside clinical placements. As opposed to the traditional style, teaching is classified by systems, for example digestive, respiratory and so on.

Often integrated courses will consist of some PBL teaching to a certain extent.

4. CBL

Teaching is conducted in small groups and can take the form of seminars, lectures, clinical placements, or anatomy workshops. A case is used as a virtual ‘trigger’ to illustrate relevant learning points in the curriculum. Cases change after an allocated period of time and new learning points are covered.


Please contact the university in question or check their website before applying, as teaching of the course may be subject to change.

Last but not least, good luck to anyone applying to medical school! Whilst a medical school’s teaching style is very important, it is not the be all or end all if you don’t get into a course with your preferred teaching. You may find that you actually enjoy the course far more than what you preconceived at the time of application.


1. Courses at medical school [Internet]. BMA. 2020 [cited 8 May 2020]. Available from:

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