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Medical School Teaching Styles (Which Is Best For You)

Medical School Teaching Styles (Which Is Best For You)

Updated on: December 3, 2023
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Written By Dr Ollie

Every article is fact-checked by a medical professional. However, inaccuracies may still persist.

As you consider pursuing a medical degree, it’s crucial to understand the variety of teaching styles employed at various medical schools and how they’d impact you as a student.

To a certain extent, each medical school will offer its own approach, ranging from traditional lecture-based teaching to more innovative, case-based instruction.

By learning about these different styles, you’ll be better equipped to choose the medical schools that best match your individual learning preferences.

I personally applied to a mixture of all the different teaching styles when selecting my medical schools, but you may find that you feel very strongly one way or the other.

The Different Medical School Teaching Styles

In this first section, I’m going to run through 6 different medical school teaching styles.

While they’re described individually, the reality is that a lot of universities will use a mixture of a few of the different teaching styles throughout their medicine course.

Medical School Teaching Styles Pixel Infographic

Lecture-Based Learning

Lecture-based learning is a traditional method in which you attend lectures delivered by professors on varying topics.

This approach is particularly common in the first few years of medical school when a lot of fact-heavy topics need to be covered.

You’ll be presented with information (generally on slides), and you may take notes, ask questions, and discuss the material with your peers. Some advantages of this method include:

  • The ability to cover a large amount of material in a short time
  • A structured approach to learning
  • Exposure to different perspectives from experienced professors

Problem-Based Learning (PBL)

In problem-based learning, you work in small groups to solve complex medical problems.

This approach helps you become an active learner, as you are required to research, analyse and discuss various aspects of the topic you’re considering.

PBL encourages critical thinking, communication skills, and collaborative learning. Benefits include:

  • Developing problem-solving skills
  • Enhancing critical thinking and reasoning
  • Encouraging self-directed learning and teamwork

Case-Based Learning (CBL)

Case-based learning is similar to PBL, but you learn by examining real-life clinical scenarios in detail.

You will discuss the case with your group members and faculty to identify issues, come up with possible solutions, and explore relevant body systems, diseases, or conditions.

CBL helps you apply your knowledge to real-world situations. Advantages include:

  • Learning to make clinical decisions based on real cases
  • Gaining insight into the patient’s perspective
  • Building clinical reasoning and problem-solving skills

Enquiry-Based Learning (EBL)

Enquiry-based learning encourages you to take charge of your education by posing questions, conducting research, and exploring topics in depth.

This method helps you develop independent, investigative skills and a deep understanding of the subject matter. Some benefits of EBL include:

  • Promoting curiosity and inquisitiveness
  • Cultivating a love for learning and self-improvement
  • Fine-tuning research skills and critical thinking

Team-Based Learning (TBL)

Team-based learning fosters a collaborative approach, where you work with a group of students to achieve common objectives.

In this format, you will participate in discussions, activities, and problem-solving exercises.

TBL promotes active participation, teamwork, and communication skills. Some advantages include:

  • Learning to work effectively with others
  • Developing leadership and negotiation skills
  • Enhancing communication and interpersonal skills

Integrated Learning

Integrated learning refers to the blending of basic science teachings with clinical experiences from the start of your medical education.

This approach combines various teaching styles to provide a well-rounded learning experience.

Incorporating both theoretical and practical components helps you better understand the connection between medical concepts and their application in clinical settings. Integrated learning benefits include:

  • Reinforcing understanding through a combination of teaching approaches
  • Enhancing the ability to apply knowledge in real-world situations
  • Promoting long-term retention of information

Which Medical Schools Use Which Teaching Styles?

In this table, I’ve tried to summarise which medical schools use which teaching methods.

However, university curriculums don’t always fit nicely into one of the above categories so your best source is always going to be exploring a medical school’s curriculum in depth individually.

Medical SchoolTeaching Style
University of AberdeenIntegrated
Anglia RuskinIntegrated
Aston UniversityPBL
University of BirminghamEBL
Brighton and SussexIntegrated
University of BristolIntegrated
BrunelTBL
University of BuckinghamIntegrated
University of CambridgeTraditional
Cardiff UniversityCBL
University of DundeeIntegrated
Edge Hill UniversityTraditional
University of East AngliaPBL
University of EdinburghIntegrated
University of ExeterIntegrated
University of GlasgowCBL
Hull YorkPBL
Imperial College LondonCBL
Keele UniversityPBL
Kent and MedwayIntegrated
King’s College LondonIntegrated
Lancaster UniversityPBL
University of LeedsIntegrated
University of LeicesterIntegrated
LincolnIntegrated
University of LiverpoolCBL
University of ManchesterPBL
Newcastle UniversityIntegrated
University of NottinghamIntegrated
University of OxfordTraditional
University of PlymouthPBL
Queen Mary UniversityPBL
Queen’s University BelfastCBL
University of SheffieldPBL
University of SouthamptonIntegrated
University of St AndrewsIntegrated
St George’sIntegrated
University of SunderlandIntegrated
University College LondonIntegrated
University of Central LancashireIntegrated

Choosing the Right Teaching Style For You

As you explore medical schools, it’s essential to consider the teaching styles used and which one you think will suit you best. Here are a few different factors that I recommend you consider:

Diversity in Learning Preferences

When choosing a medical school, it’s essential to consider your own learning preferences.

Medical schools might adopt traditional teaching styles, where you learn the scientific theory first and move to clinical settings later (e.g., Oxford and Cambridge), or integrated courses with other teaching styles.

University students in a large lecture hall
Medical students sat in a lecture hall

To maximise your potential, you should select a course that matches your learning preferences and will engage you throughout your studies.

Efficiency and Effectiveness

It’s crucial to assess how efficiently and effectively a teaching style meets your needs.

Some people just won’t be able to sit still through an entire lecture without completely zoning out so would likely really struggle with a traditional teaching style.

Equally, it might be your idea of a nightmare to have to continuously interact with your fellow students in a TBL environment in order to advance your medical education.

I personally thought I’d much prefer the lectures during my time studying at Leicester Medical School, but I actually found myself really enjoying the more ‘PBL’ style tutorials that were run alongside them.

Student Engagement

Lastly, consider how engaged you’ll be with a particular teaching style. Active student engagement is crucial for successful learning. Some key points to consider are:

  • Flexibility: Integrated courses might provide more opportunities to explore your interests alongside core medical subjects
  • Innovation: Look for schools that incorporate new teaching methods, such as blended learning, virtual classrooms, and simulation
  • Feedback and support: A good teaching style should encourage regular feedback and provide guidance for improvement

Which Medical School Teaching Style Is Best?

The ‘best’ teaching style for you may be the ‘worst’ teaching style for your best friend. Here’s a bit of a guide as to which you might find yourself gravitating towards:

Traditional teaching- Lectures, tutorials, and practical sessions are the main components of this method, providing a structured learning environment. If you prefer a guided experience, with experts leading you through the subject matter, this might be the best fit for you.

Problem-based learning (PBL)- This approach emphasises self-directed learning and critical thinking, challenging you to find solutions to complex problems. If you enjoy collaborative work and have strong problem-solving skills, you may thrive in a PBL environment.

Case-based learning- Schools like Cardiff use this innovative approach, which allows you to learn in-depth about specific conditions and treatment plans. If you’re seeking a highly contextualised learning experience that connects theory to real-world situations, case-based learning might be for you.

Integrated teaching- This style is increasingly popular among medical schools and offers a well-rounded educational approach. If you benefit from a diverse range of teaching methods and wish to avoid being limited by just one style, integrated teaching could be the ideal choice.

Remember, there is no universally “best” teaching style. It’s crucial to evaluate your preferences, strengths, and long-term career goals when choosing a medical school.

How Teaching Styles Should Influence Where You Apply

Once you understand the various teaching styles medical schools use and have an idea of what you’d prefer, the next step is to use this knowledge to inform which universities you choose to apply to.

To make an informed decision about which teaching styles should be reflected on your UCAS form, I’d suggest you:

  • Reflect on your learning preferences. Think about how you best absorb and retain information, as well as how you prefer to approach problem-solving. This can help you identify which teaching style will be most beneficial for your medical education.
  • Attend open days and medical school presentations. Researching every medical school’s curriculum, visiting campuses, and speaking to current students can provide you with valuable insights into the teaching styles they utilise and the resulting learning environment.
  • Consider your career aspirations. The teaching style provided by a medical school will influence the knowledge and skills you develop during your education. Aligning your educational experience with your career goals ensures that you receive the appropriate training needed to thrive in your chosen field.

Innovative Methods In Medical Education

In this next section, I’m going explore some of the more innovative methods being used by medical schools across the UK.

These methods don’t necessarily neatly fit into the categories described at the start of the article, but they’re important to consider nonetheless.

Simulation-Based Learning

In the ever-evolving field of medical education, simulation-based learning is an approach you should be aware of.

Using a virtual reality headset in a medical simulation

It provides trainees with hands-on experience in medical procedures and decision-making, without putting patients at risk.

This method utilises realistic scenarios featuring high-fidelity manikins, virtual reality, and immersive environments. Benefits of simulation-based learning include:

  • Enhancing critical thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Providing opportunities for teamwork and interprofessional collaboration
  • Allowing for personalised feedback and debriefing

Digital Learning

Today’s technologically-savvy learners require new approaches, and digital learning is a key component of modern medical education. This method comprises:

  • E-learning platforms: Online courses, interactive modules, and podcasts provide flexibility and cater to individual learning preferences
  • Mobile apps: Various medical apps, such as anatomy visualisation tools and drug reference guides, aid in reinforcing knowledge and providing on-the-go learning opportunities
  • Social media and forums: Online communities allow for global collaboration and sharing of expertise, enhancing communication and peer-to-peer learning

Flipped Classroom

The flipped classroom model is gaining preference among medical educators.

In this approach, you engage with learning materials, such as videos and readings, before the class session.

This allows for a deeper understanding of the content and paves the way for more fruitful discussions and interactive activities during the class session. Key elements of a flipped classroom include:

  • Prioritising active learning by focusing on problem-solving exercises, case discussions, and peer teaching
  • Enabling instructors to provide personalised guidance and support rather than simply lecturing
  • Encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning, fostering a sense of accountability and self-directed growth

By embracing innovative methods in medical education, you can adapt to the changing landscape of the field and optimise your learning experiences.

The Future Of Medical Education

Finally, this last section looks at what the near future of medical education might look like and how university teaching styles may change going forward.

Integration Of Technology

As an aspiring medical student, I can imagine you’ll find that the future of medical education will be heavily influenced by the integration of technology into teaching styles.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced medical schools to make rapid curricular shifts, which included the incorporation of digital learning platforms, virtual simulations and telemedicine experiences.

These technological advancements have not only allowed medical students to continue their studies but also opened up new possibilities for remote or distance learning, enabling you to access educational content from anywhere in the world.

Furthermore, I think technology will play a vital role in enhancing communication and collaboration among students and faculty, as well as providing useful tools for data analysis and research.

By utilising these resources, you’ll be better equipped to keep up-to-date with the latest developments in medicine and further advance your career in the field.

Collaborative Learning Approaches

In the future of medical education, I foresee that collaborative learning approaches will become increasingly significant.

Medical schools are beginning to recognise the importance of peer-to-peer learning and teamwork, ensuring that students are better prepared for team-based clinical practices.

This shift in teaching style encourages you to engage in interactive case discussions, group projects, and problem-based learning activities, fostering a cooperative and supportive learning environment.

In addition to enhancing your practical and decision-making skills, collaborative learning approaches will help you develop essential communication and teamwork abilities.

Together with other aspiring professionals, you’ll be able to exchange knowledge, ideas, and resources, ultimately benefiting patients and the healthcare system as a whole.

Final Thoughts

The teaching style of a medical school should be a critical factor when deciding where to apply.

As you navigate these diverse teaching styles, keep in mind that there is no “best” way to teach medicine.

The key is to identify the academic environment in which you are most likely to thrive, ensuring a successful and fulfilling medical education.

By identifying your learning preferences and considering the teaching styles offered by various medical schools, you can ensure that you choose an institution that will enable you to succeed academically and professionally.

About the author
After studying medicine at the University of Leicester, Dr Ollie now works as a junior doctor in London. His interests include medical education and expedition medicine, as well as having a strong belief in the importance of widening access to medicine.