Problem Based Learning at UPNG SMHS: An Urgent Need For Review

I just came back from the Australasian Institute of Anatomical Sciences conference in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia (2014 conference) where I presented a paper titled: “Challenges of teaching anatomical pathology in Papua New Guinea; current challenges & the future”. 

My paper discussed the history of problem based learning curriculum introduction at the UPNG medical school and the impact it has on how anatomical pathology is taught to medical students. I then went on to discuss challenges we are having such as deteriorating infrastructure and lack of resources for effective teaching. And I proposed a way forward for us and that is to use digital images available on the internet and virtual pathology resources.

There were a lot of papers presented at the conference. And one of the things that was very clear to me was that the it seems to me the mode of teaching in medical schools around the world is coming around in full circle. What do I mean?

Traditionally medical students were taught in medical schools via lectures, tutorials and practical classes. And the basic sciences were a big part. Anatomy in particular involved dissection of cadavers. Then there was a shift in teaching philosophy started in Canada at the MacMaster University where the shift changed to self-directed learning or Problem Based Learning as it is commonly known. At this year’s AIAS conference I realised medical schools in Australia are reverting back to the “old” way of teaching or having a hybrid of the two. In fact there is mounting research data that suggests that there is no difference in the outcome comparing the “old” way of teaching medical students and the PBL way of teaching medical students.

What does all this mean for UPNG Medical School? There have been numerous calls to review the PBL curriclum. And there have been a lot of discussion on the perception (real or otherwise) that basic medical sciences are not taught effectively to medical students. There was a review of the curriculum recently in Port Moresby. And one of the main themes that rose was that the basic medical sciences are not being effectively taught! Now this is coming from lecturers at the medical schools! Does this mean we have to change back to the “old” way of teaching?

My view is that we need to have a hybrid, of the “old” and PBL way. I have always maintained that PBL curriculum is a resource intensive way of teaching medical students. There are of course other factors involved but primarily I think it needs more resources..lecturers, tutors, resources for self-directed learning etc..

I think UPNG Medical School need to seriously consider having a hybrid system and not purely PBL because we have not been able to fund the implementation of this curriculum effectively over the last 10 years since it was introduced. There are many senior academics who will disagree with me but we have to admit PBL is not working effectively for us and we need to change it in a big way. I do not see the medical school having adequate lecturers and tutors let alone the resources in the foreseeable future to change things around.


About rodney itaki

Medical doctor and public health specialist from Papua New Guinea.
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