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The use of peer physical examination in undergraduate health professions education: Exploring the perceptions of students and educators in a multicultural, multiracial institution

A Adefuye
M Hattingh
M Labuschagne
J Busari


Background. Teaching clinical skills is core content of the medical and allied health curricula of the Faculty of Health Sciences (FoHS) at the University of the Free State (UFS) in South Africa. A major pedagogical tool used for this purpose across the faculty is peer physical examination (PPE).
Objective. To investigate the lived experience and perceptions of students and educators on the use of PPE in undergraduate health professions education at a multicultural and multiracial institution. Suggestions on guidelines for a PPE policy for the FoHS at the UFS were also obtained from the participants.
Methods. This research was designed as a qualitative study that used focus group interviews involving 26 participants (19 students and 7 educators) to obtain verbal statements that described their experience and perceptions of the use of PPE in undergraduate health professions education.
Results. Participants reported that PPE was useful to create a safe learning environment and to prepare students for the clinical aspects of their training. Enhancing students’ empathy, competency and clinical confidence were among the advantages attributed to using PPE; it also encouraged peerassisted learning. Some of the disadvantages ascribed to PPE were that it made it difficult to maintain classroom discipline, and that it could promote memorisation over understanding. Finally, participants suggested that a guideline for PPE policy should address matters of consent, confidentiality, participation and gender, cultural, religious and racial considerations.
Conclusions. The findings of this study reveal that PPE is an acceptable and useful learning strategy for the majority of students and educators. Issues relating to consent, confidentiality and cultural, religious and racial considerations are some of the potential problems associated with the use of PPE at the UFS. We believe that the suggestions given by the participants of this study will inform the establishment of a PPE policy for the FoHS of the UFS. 

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