5 min read

What Is Problem-Based Learning in Medicine?

Published on
May 2, 2024

There is no denying that applying to medical schools is a gruelling process that involves a significant amount of self directed learning. This challenge is compounded by the scope of medical studies. Any reasonable doctor will tell a student that it is impossible to learn every aspect of medicine. Instead, you should aim to be a safe and competent doctor. Rather than learning the minutiae of every disease, you should learn how to manage particular patient problems. This time of problem-oriented approach in teaching is known as “problem-based learning”.

In this article, we are going to discuss what Problem Based Learning (PBL) involves, as well as how we replicated the medical learning process at Fraser’s GAMSAT. 

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How does Problem Based Learning Work in Medical School?

In medical school, PBLs are routine. These sessions occur side-by-side with regular, didactic teaching. What this means is that you will receive a formal lecture on a particular pathology, and then in a few days, after you have had time to consolidate your learning, you are asked to solve a relevant patient case. Usually the case is complicated and multifactorial. It may require multiple people, multiple hours to work through every aspect of the case problem. You may even have to step back to review your lecture notes, or external research papers to understand the concepts required. Finally, however, you are required to answer specific questions about the medical challenges of this case. By this point, you have become an expert in understanding and managing your PBL scenario. This does not mean that you know everything about the given disease, but what it does mean is that you can confidently solve this type of medical problem in the future!

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Why does Problem-Based Learning Work?

As with many contemporary teaching techniques, the PBL method originated in 1960s Canada. Their approach was scientifically developed to practise the logic of problem solving, rather than the skill of memorisation.

The effectiveness of the PBLs lies in the fact that students are afforded the scope for developing their own approaches to investigate deeper into the subject matter. It also encourages you to create individualised patterns of logic - in other words, you are rationalising the information in the most individual possible way.  PBL pushes students to actively investigate, collaborate, and work through mistakes. 

You should remember that this is exactly how medical training works - much more is learned by being an active apprentice than a passive bookworm!  

At Fraser’s, the courses we offer follow a PBL approach towards excelling in the GAMSAT prep. Check out our range of courses, catering to individual requirements, sign up now!

How Do PBLs Work at Fraser’s GAMSAT?

At Fraser’s GAMSAT, PBL takes place after all the core courses content has been delivered. Do not worry - not all the learning is self directed and we will not throw you into the deep end of GAMSAT Section 3 physics! 

Instead, once you have completed the didactic aspect of the course, you will transition to PBL classes. In these classes, you will be given a specific focus. The focus narrows down a particular aspect of Section 1 or Section 3. For example, a particular PBL may revolve around poetry questions. 

During the PBL, you will be encouraged to work through the questions provided in a collaborative manner. This means asking questions of your tutor and classmates, as well as presenting your perspective on the subject. We generally aim for a very open and warm environment during our PBL classes, and most students and tutors find them to be the highlight of our program. 

As mentioned previously, while you are presented with a focused set of questions for the PBL, you are expected to work through the questions yourself, using the knowledge from previous, didactic classes. The class is not a race, and is focused on developing the appropriate approach to extracting information from a GAMSAT set. The tutor will support the discussion, as well as having worked solutions on hand. The class will conclude with a summary of lessons learned, and most critically, a focused discussion of learning objectives for you to review and develop before the next PBL. 

Final Tips: 

Advantages of Problem-based Learning in Medicine 

Walking into the PBL, this is what you are going to learn:

  1. The PBL method fosters initiative, communication, and problem solving because it requires you to engage with your fellow students in tackling complex problems. 
  2. PBLs set focused learning goals. Because of the breadth of questions and approaches discussed in a PBL class, there is a lot of opportunity to ‘spot-check’ your shortcomings. 
  3. Active discussion of different approaches allows you to learn from your colleagues, and develop a variety of approach to a given problem.

Disadvantages of Problem-based Learning in Medicine 

As with all teaching methods there are two sides to the PBL coin. Consider these pitfalls to avoid during your time in collaborative learning.

  1. The limiting factor in a PBL class is your enthusiasm, if you choose to limit your contribution to discussion, and avoid testing your ideas, you may not reap the full benefit of the format. This is why we have trained tutors present at every PBL, to give everyone support and direct discussion. They will also correct the class if it becomes sidetracked. 
  2. The PBL teaching method is less organized than didactic teaching. This may concern students, but the reality is that this format is perfect for the breadth of information required by the GAMSAT. Also, it is important to remember that PBLs support traditional teaching at Fraser’s GAMSAT.

What To Do Next?

Now that you have an overall understanding of the PBL in medicine, check out Fraser’s range of FREE tools for you to try and predict your odds of receiving a medical interview offer or generating MMI practice questions!

Alternatively, read our diverse set of FREE Resources:

  1. The UK vs Australian Medical School: Differences & Similarities
  2. How to Perfect the Medical Interview Tone?
  3. How to Ace an MMI interview?