Introduction: In the contemporary era, career choices, recruitment and subsequent retention of healthcare professionals in the rural areas are a major, worldwide concern and challenge to the health sector, leading to manpower shortages resulting in poor quality health care for the rural communities. Medical education has integrated community-oriented medical education strategies in undergraduate medical training to help address the challenges of healthcare in the rural communities. These strategies are likely to impact the strategies of delivering the content of undergraduate medical curricula.
Purpose of the study: This study explored medical trainees’ preferences regarding place of work and choice of specialty after completing training using either the traditional or mixed Problem-Based Learning/Community-Based Education and Service (PBL/COBES) curriculum in Ghanaian medical schools.
Method. This study was a cross-sectional descriptive design using a questionnaire consisting of 25 open- and close-ended questions. The questionnaire was administered to 1st, 3rd and 6th year students of two medical schools in Ghana, University of Ghana School of Medicine and Dentistry (UGSMD) and University for Development Studies, School of Medicine and Health Sciences (UDS, SMHS).UGSMD uses the traditional method of teaching and learning, whilst UDS-SMHS uses (PBL/COBES) curriculum in the training of their students. Associations between gender, type of curriculum, choice of specialty and practice location were assessed using the Chi-square test. Logistic regression analysis was performed to determine the association between medical school and curriculum type and students’ preparation for rural practice while controlling all other factors. Qualitative data analysis of answers to opened-ended questions was performed applying the principles of thematic analysis.
Results: Of the students from PBL/COBES track, 64.2% were male, and from the traditional track 52%. The majority (74.1%) of students from PBL/COBES track indicated that their medical school curriculum adequately prepared them for rural practice as compared to those from the traditional track (35.1%). The willingness of 3rd year students at UDS-SMHS to choose to practice in the rural areas after graduation decreases as compared to their colleagues in 1st and 6th years. Students from the traditional track were 80% less likely to state that their medical school curriculum adequately prepared them for rural practice compared to students from PBL/COBES track (OR=0.19, CI= 0.13-0.28, p=0.001 Students following the PBL/COBES curriculum opined that the programme was very useful and could influence their choice of future practice location. Students following the traditional curriculum called for the introduction of innovative teaching methodology incorporating rural outreach programmes as part of the medical curriculum.
Conclusion: Students using the PBL/COBES curriculum indicated that their curriculum adequately prepared them for future rural practice. Students following the traditional curriculum called for the introduction of an innovative teaching methodology incorporating rural outreach programmes. This, they believed, will help them cultivate an interest for rural practice and also increase their willingness to choose rural practice after graduation from medical school.