PURPOSE: To explore what third-year medical students learn from residents and which teaching strategies are used by excellent resident teachers in their interactions with students in the clinical workplace environment. METHOD: In this multi-institutional qualitative study between January and March 2012, the authors conducted focus groups with medical students who were midway through their third year. Qualitative analysis was used to identify themes. RESULTS: Thirty-seven students participated. Students contributed 228 comments related to teaching methods used by residents. The authors categorized these into 20 themes within seven domains: role-modeling, focusing on teaching, creating a safe learning environment, providing experiential learning opportunities, giving feedback, setting expectations, and stimulating learning. Role-modeling, the most frequently classified method of teaching in this study, was not included in three popular "Resident-as-Teacher" (RAT) models. Strategies including offering opportunities for safe practice, involving students in the team, and providing experiential learning opportunities were not emphasized in these models either. Almost 200 comments representing the knowledge and skills students learned from residents were categorized into 33 themes within nine domains: patient care, communication, navigating the system, adaptability, functioning as a student/resident, lifelong learning, general comments, career/professional development, and medical content. Most of these areas are not emphasized in popular RAT models. CONCLUSIONS: Residents serve as critically important teachers of students in the clinical workplace. Current RAT models are based largely on the teaching behaviors of faculty. The content and teaching strategies identified by students in this study should serve as the foundation for future RAT program development.
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