Study Shows Medical Students Improve Patient Satisfaction

Patients always want the best care, and often, that’s thought to come from physicians who have been in practice for many years. However, new research shows that some patients enjoy care from University of Minnesota Medical School students.

The Minneapolis Veterans Affairs (VA) Health Care System operates the U of M Medical School’s Veterans Affairs Longitudinal Undergraduate Medical Education (VALUE) clerkship. As part of the clerkship, third-year medical students get assigned a panel of approximately 20 patients to follow for 10 months. Over that time, the VALUE students are able to really connect with their panel of patients by attending many of their appointments across different care venues, in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

“We heard really positive feedback about the experience from both students and patients, so I wanted to study it systematically,” said Nacide Ercan-Fang, MD, co-director of VALUE.

In a study published in Academic Medicine, senior author Dr. Ercan-Fang and first author Albertine Beard, MD, co-director of VALUE, evaluate whether longitudinal student involvement improves patient satisfaction with care. They compared responses to a satisfaction survey from two groups of patients. The groups were matched in disease severity and followed by the same attending physician. The only difference is that the patients in the intervention group were followed by VALUE students as well.

All patients completed a satisfaction survey two to five months after the VALUE students left the program. The survey found that patients who were assigned VALUE students were more than twice as likely to rate their care as “excellent” compared to control patients, with an odds ratio of 2.17. Those same patients were also more likely to report receiving better quality of care.

But, what made the care so much better? According to the patients, the students relayed information to patients in a way that was easy to understand. The students also learned the patient’s medical and personal history, which also improved communications and ensured that important aspects of patient history were immediately available and visible to other physicians when receiving care across a variety of clinics. Lastly, the patients appreciated the way the students advocated for them, looking out for their best interests. Approximately 35% of patients even remembered the medical student’s name two to five months after their last contact.

“I don’t think it was clear to the public before whether or not students contribute to their care, but now it is clear that they do,” Dr. Ercan-Fang said. “That’s the ultimate goal. After all, we are all here for the patients.”