Preparing to prescribe: How do clerkship students learn in the midst of complexity?

Lucy McLellan, Sarah Yardley, Ben Norris, Anique de Bruin, Mary P Tully, Tim Dornan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)
240 Downloads (Pure)


Prescribing tasks, which involve pharmacological knowledge, clinical decision-making and practical skill, take place within unpredictable social environments and involve interactions within and between endlessly changing health care teams. Despite this, curriculum designers commonly assume them to be simple to learn and perform. This research used mixed methods to explore how undergraduate medical students learn to prescribe in the 'real world'. It was informed by cognitive psychology, sociocultural theory, and systems thinking. We found that learning to prescribe occurs as a dynamic series of socially negotiated interactions within and between individuals, communities and environments. As well as a thematic analysis, we developed a framework of three conceptual spaces in which learning opportunities for prescribing occur. This illustrates a complex systems view of prescribing education and defines three major system components: the "social space", where the environmental conditions influence or bring about a learning experience; the "process space", describing what happens during the learning experience; and the intra-personal "cognitive space", where the learner may develop aspects of prescribing expertise. This conceptualisation broadens the scope of inquiry of prescribing education research by highlighting the complex interplay between individual and social dimensions of learning. This perspective is also likely to be relevant to students' learning of other clinical competencies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1339–1354
JournalAdvances in Health Sciences Education : Theory and Practice
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2015


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