Medical education of attention: A qualitative study of learning to listen to sound

Anna Harris*, Eleanor Flynn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Introduction: There has been little qualitative research examining how physical examination skills are learned, particularly the sensory and subjective aspects of learning. The authors set out to study how medical students are taught and learn the skills of listening to sound.Methods: As part of an ethnographic study in Melbourne, 15 semi-structured in-depth interviews were conducted with students and teachers as a way to reflect explicitly on their learning and teaching.Results: From these interviews, we found that learning the skills of listening to lung sounds was frequently difficult for students, with many experiencing awkwardness, uncertainty, pressure, and intimidation. However not everyone found this process difficult. Often those who had studied music reported finding it easier to be attentive to the frequency and rhythm of body sounds and find ways to describe them.Conclusions: By incorporating, distinctively in medical education, theoretical insights into attentiveness from anthropology and science and technology studies, the article suggests that musical education provides medical students with skills in sensory awareness. Training the senses is a critical aspect of diagnosis that needs to be better addressed in medical education. Practical approaches for improving students' education of attention are proposed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)79-84
Number of pages6
JournalMedical Teacher
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2017



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