Phenomenon: Teaching patient-centered care (PCC) is a key component of undergraduate medical curricula. Prior frameworks of PCC describe multiple domains of patient-centeredness, ranging from interpersonal encounters to systems-level issues. Medical students' perceptions of PCC are thought to erode as they progress through school, but little is known about how students view PCC toward the beginning of training. This study explores the perceptions of PCC among 1st-year medical students to inform curricular development and evaluation. Approach: Medical students participated in semistructured, in-person interviews within 4 months of starting medical school as part of a longitudinal study. Transcripts were analyzed using a grounded theory approach and the constant comparative method to describe responses and characterize emergent themes. Transcripts were reviewed to compare codes and compile a final codebook. Findings: Thirty-eight students completed interviews. Students provided heterogeneous definitions of PCC, including perceptions that PCC is implicit and obvious. Many students were unable to provide a concrete definition of PCC, juxtaposing PCC with other priorities such as profit- or physician-centered care, whereas others thought the term was jargon. Some participants defined PCC as upholding patient values using hypothetical examples centered around physician behavior. Insights: Although students appeared to enter medical school with a range of perceptions about PCC, many of their descriptions were limited and only scratch the surface of existing frameworks. Rather than their perceptions of PCC eroding during medical school, students may never fully develop a foundational understanding of PCC. Our findings reinforce the need for authentic, clinically experiential learning opportunities that promote PCC from the earliest stages of medical education.
- patient-centered care
- patient–physician relationship
- primary care education
- qualitative research methods
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