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Workplace-based learning for undergraduate and pre-registration healthcare professionals: A systematic map of the UK research literature 2003-2013

What do we want to know?

What is the nature of the research on workplace-based learning for undergraduate and pre-registration healthcare professionals in the UK? How many studies are there and what do they focus on?

Who wants to know?

The map was funded by the Higher Education Academy, UCL Institute of Education, University College London, and the Association for the Study of Medical Education. Workplace based learning is a key component of healthcare professionals education and training and is therefore a key concern of educators, professional bodies, professional regulators, the NHS and Health Education England. 

What did we find?

We identified 117 UK studies about workplace-based learning for undergraduate/pre-registration healthcare students published between 2003 and 2013.

The majority of studies (n = 111) focused on students views or experiences of workplace-based learning. Very few studies (n= 6) investigated the impacts of workplace-based learning (using quantitative measurements of change in student attitudes, knowledge or skill). There were no studies that measured impacts on organisational practice or patient/client outcomes.

The highest number of studies focused on nursing students in workplace- based learning (n = 52) and there were relatively fewer studies examining students in medicine (n = 13), dentistry (n = 11) and midwifery (n = 10). Studies of workplace-based learning for students of the allied health professions were also limited in number (e.g. four physiotherapy studies). Eighteen studies focused on workplace-based learning in an inter-professional context.

The majority of studies used qualitative data collected using questionnaires and interviews. 

What are the conclusions?

This is the first report, to our knowledge, that systematically identifies and characterises empirical research literature from the UK on workplace-based learning for undergraduate and pre-registration students across multiple healthcare professions and settings. Based on the findings above, strategies for future research should include:

  • Further research in the field of workplace-based learning for undergraduate and pre-registration healthcare professionals;
  • More research that can measure the impact of workplace-based learning (using quantitative, independent outcome measures);
  • In-depth systematic reviews of student or educator views of workplace-based learning in the healthcare professions;
  • More research on workplace-based learning for healthcare professions other than nursing. 

How did we get these results?

This project undertook a rapid systematic map. This approach employs systematic and transparent methods to describe the research field. The map included two main stages:

  1. A focused search and screening process to identify relevant literature. Two electronic databases and a selection of websites were searched for studies. A set of inclusion/exclusion criteria were developed in collaboration with the advisory group and used to screen potentially relevant reports.
  2. Descriptive narrative mapping of a subset of the relevant studies. A coding tool was developed and applied to all UK studies. This described key elements of the research: the healthcare students participating in the study, the nature of the workplace-based learning, the study methods and the type of findings. As in other systematic maps the actual research findings of individual studies are not reported.

This report should be cited as:

Schucan Bird K, Newman M, Hargreaves K, Sawtell M (2015) Workplace-based learning for undergraduate and pre-registration healthcare professionals: A systematic map of the UK research literature 2003-2013. London: EPPI-Centre, Social Science Research Unit, UCL Institute of Education, University College London.
ISBN: 978-1-907345-81-4

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