INTRODUCTION: Early clinical exposure (ECE), or authentic human contact in a social or clinical context during preclinical training, has been adopted by many medical schools. This study aims to investigate how medical students' sense of professionalism changed after ECE intervention, with the aim of informing curriculum design to enhance student awareness of the importance of medical professionalism.
METHOD: Focus groups of ECE students were held to collect data for the study. All participants read interview guidelines before starting. During the focus groups, the students discussed their medical obligations as perceived throughout the course, which offered a choice between four different ECE tracks. They were then asked to report their understanding of the situations they encountered during the course and reflect on their implications.
RESULTS: Six focus groups of 22 students in total from a medical school in northern Taiwan were held shortly after the students completed an ECE course in September 2019. From their responses, 10 categories relating to medical professionalism were deduced categorized under 5 major dimensions. An additional 8 sub-dimensions on attitudes and 2 sub-dimensions on personal well-being were also identified as new categories separate from but related to medical professionalism. After the ECE intervention, about 59% of participants redefined their understanding of medical professionalism.
CONCLUSION: ECE and intensive interaction with key stakeholders, including patients and their families, help students in the early stages of medical education form and cultivate a sense of medical professionalism. However, the relationship between participants' personalities, motivations, and clinical activities requires further investigation.