Design and evaluation of a learning assignment in the undergraduate medical curricula on the four dimensions of care: a mixed method study

J. Pieters*, D.M.L. Verstegen, D.H.J.M. Dolmans, F.C. Warmenhoven, M.H.J.V. van Everdingen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background Chronic and palliative care are rapidly gaining importance within the physician's range of duties. In this context, it is important to address the four dimensions of care: physical, psychological, social, and spiritual. Medical students, however, feel inadequately equipped to discuss these dimensions with the patient. To bridge this gap, a new assignment was developed and implemented, in which students talked to a chronic or palliative patient about the four dimensions of care during an internship. This study, reports the evaluation of this assignment by students and teachers using a design-based approach. Methods Mixed methods were used, including a) student questionnaires, b) student focus groups, c) teacher interviews, and d) student's written reflections. Two researchers performed analyses of the qualitative data from the focus groups, interviews, and written reflections using qualitative research software (ALTLAS.TI). Descriptive statistics were computed for the quantitative data using SPSS 21.0. Results Students and teachers valued talking to an actual patient about the four dimensions of care. Reading and providing peer feedback on each other's reports was considered valuable, especially when it came to the diversity of illnesses, the way that patients cope and communication techniques. The students considered reflection useful, especially in the group and provided it was not too frequent. All the dimensions were addressed in the interviews, however the spiritual dimension was found to be the most difficult to discuss. The analysis of the written reflections revealed an overlap between the social and spiritual dimensions. Students pay a lot of attention to the relationship between the illness and the patient's daily life, but the reflections do often not show insight in the potential relationship between the four dimensions and decisions in patient care. Conclusions During internships, medical students can practice talking about four dimensions of care with a chronically ill or palliative patient. Due to the format, it can be implemented across existing internships with relatively little extra time and effort. Reflection, peer feedback, and group discussion under the guidance of a teacher are important additions.
Original languageEnglish
Article number309
Number of pages10
JournalBMC Medical Education
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2021


  • Chronic care
  • Palliative care
  • Undergraduate medical curricula
  • Authentic task
  • Peer feedback
  • Reflection
  • Design-based research

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