Advances in Health Sciences Education

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 765–779 | Cite as

What students really learn: contrasting medical and nursing students’ experiences of the clinical learning environment

  • Matilda LiljedahlEmail author
  • Lena Engqvist Boman
  • Charlotte Porthén Fält
  • Klara Bolander Laksov


This paper explores and contrasts undergraduate medical and nursing students’ experiences of the clinical learning environment. Using a sociocultural perspective of learning and an interpretative approach, 15 in-depth interviews with medical and nursing students were analysed with content analysis. Students’ experiences are described using a framework of ‘before’, ‘during’ and ‘after’ clinical placements. Three major themes emerged from the analysis, contrasting the medical and nursing students’ experiences of the clinical learning environment: (1) expectations of the placement; (2) relationship with the supervisor; and (3) focus of learning. The findings offer an increased understanding of how medical and nursing students learn in the clinical setting; they also show that the clinical learning environment contributes to the socialisation process of students not only into their future profession, but also into their role as learners. Differences between the two professions should be taken into consideration when designing interprofessional learning activities. Also, the findings can be used as a tool for clinical supervisors in the reflection on how student learning in the clinical learning environment can be improved.


Clinical learning environment Content analysis Sociocultural learning theory Undergraduate medical education Undergraduate nursing education Workplace learning 



The authors wish to thank all the students who willingly shared their experiences with the research group, as well as Asso Prof Erik Björck and Prof Sari Ponzer for their valuable comments on the findings and manuscript. Supported by grants provided by the Stockholm County Council (ALF project) and Karolinska Institutet.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Matilda Liljedahl
    • 1
    Email author
  • Lena Engqvist Boman
    • 1
  • Charlotte Porthén Fält
    • 1
  • Klara Bolander Laksov
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Unit for Medical Education, Department of Learning, Informatics, Management and Ethics (LIME)Karolinska InstitutetStockholmSweden
  2. 2.Department of EducationStockholm UniversityStockholmSweden

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