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MMI Stations: PBL Sessions

Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is a common method of teaching in a lot of medical schools. Some universities do a lot of it, some do a little and a few don’t use it at all. So what is it? It involves creating your own learning objectives from material provided such as a case history and then feeding back what you learned to the group. Some universities in recent years have brought forward PBL sessions to interview.

You may be put into a ‘PBL Group’ with other people at the interview and then work through a scenario to create learning objectives that in theory you would go away and research. The main reason they do this is not to see if you’ll be good at PBL but to see how you work in a team.

A rough overview of how you work through PBL sessions would be as follows:

  1. Read through the scenario carefully and clarify any terms you’re unsure of.
  2. Talk through the issues raised in the scenario as a group.
  3. Turn these issues into learning objectives that you could research.

Obviously, at an interview you won’t have to go away and do the research, but you should treat as if you would research the issues raised. This will help you engage with it fully. Below are some tips on how to tackle mock PBL sessions at interview.

Make sure you speak up but don’t speak over everyone

Although it is important that you have your voice heard, don’t speak over other people in your group during PBL sessions – that’s not demonstrating good teamwork or listening skills! Listen to what other people have to say and respond accordingly. It’ll help you gain a better understanding of the problem and is key to any teamwork-based exercise.

They’re not trying to trick you with the scenario

Everything you need to form your learning objectives is in the scenario. Don’t go off course trying to think of complicated or abstract learning objectives. Think about what’s in the scenario and why it is there. This is where the learning objectives come from.

Think of the underlying science behind the case

Clearly, if a disease or treatment is mentioned in the scenario, you’re going to need to look into it, but also consider the basic science. For example, if someone has broken their leg, don’t just think about how to fix it but also the basic anatomy of the leg.

Use what you already know in PBL sessions

If you know something about the topics covered in the scenario, don’t be afraid to share it. This will help people think more about the problem and show the observers that you have read a bit around the subject of medicine.

Encourage everyone to have their say

This is the role of the chair in a normal PBL situation but you may not have one at interview. By encouraging everyone to take part, this will show you understand that PBL is a team sport and you’re interested in what everyone has to say.

Words: Ruari McGowan

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