Small-group learning makes radiology clerkships more effective

The use of small group learning methods, rather than large plenary sessions, in the third year is making radiology clerkships more practical and effective for medical students, according to a report in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

According to the study, conducted by a team from Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, MA, the redesign of the radiology clerkship has made the program more accessible for medical students through scheduling that better accommodates the busy schedules of third-year students, and made it more effective by instituting a learning structure that focuses on interactive learning of modules in small groups.

"We came up with an introductory course for the entire third year using small-group teaching as opposed to giving big lectures; big courses don't really work because you need to interact," lead author Donald Di Salvo, M.D. said in an article in

These improvements are reflected in the growth of scores in the objective structured clinical examination (OSCE), the researchers say.  The average mean score of 53.78 (out of 100) reported in 2008, has increased to 92.18 in 2012.

To design the program, clerkship directors from areas like medicine, surgery, pediatrics and neurology were asked about what kinds of imaging studies and diagnoses students should be exposed to, and students were asked for their input as well.

The new program contains three fundamental components--a fundamentals of imaging course, consisting of four three-hour modules; clinical conferences that use interactive formats, including discussions centered on clinical topics; and the OSCE, a nine-station exam that is given in the fourth year that contains a radiology station manned by radiologist volunteers.

Students and faculty members were surveyed about the program and, according to the researchers, felt "overwhelmingly" that it gave them better insight into better clinical utilization of imaging studies.

"These are the kinds of things you're going to see in the coming years: a format that encourages small-group learning," Di Salvo said.

To learn more:
- see the report in the Journal of the American College of Radiology
- check out the article in