BACKGROUND: This paper explores local community perceptions of a relatively new rural medical school. For the purposes of this paper, community engagement is conceptualized as involvement in planning, delivering, and evaluating the medical program. Although there are several reviews of patient involvement in medical curricula development, this study was designed to pilot an approach to exploring the perspectives of well members of the community in the transition of institutional policy on community engagement to one medical school.
METHODS: An advertisement in the local newspaper invited volunteers to participate in a telephone interview about the new medical school. An independent researcher external to the medical school conducted the interviews using a topic guide. Audio recordings were not made, but detailed notes including verbatim statements were recorded. At least two research team members analyzed interview records for emergent themes. Human research ethics approval was obtained.
RESULTS: Twelve interviews were conducted. Participants offered rich imaginings on the role of the school and expectations and opportunities for students. Most participants expressed strong and positive views, especially in addressing long-term health workforce issues. It was considered important that students live, mix, and study in the community. Some participants had very clear ideas about the need of the school to address specified needs, such as indigenous health, obesity, aging, drug and alcohol problems, teenage pregnancy, ethnic diversity, and working with people of low socioeconomic status.
CONCLUSION: This study has initiated a dialogue with potential partners in the community, which can be built upon to shape the medical school's mission and contribution to the society it serves. The telephone interview approach and thematic analysis yielded valuable insights and is recommended for further studies. Our study was limited by its small study size and the single recruitment source. The community is a rich resource for medical education, but there is a dearth of literature on the perspectives of the community and its role in medical education.