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08-10-2019 | Original Article | Uitgave 5/2019 Open Access

Perspectives on Medical Education 5/2019

The learning environment on a student ward: an observational study

Perspectives on Medical Education > Uitgave 5/2019
Anna Dyar, Hanna Lachmann, Terese Stenfors, Anna Kiessling
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Electronic supplementary material

The online version of this article (https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s40037-019-00538-3) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.



Worldwide, a growing number of healthcare students require clinical environments for learning. Some wards have become adapted ‘student wards’ to meet this demand. Benefits have been reported from the students’, supervisors’ and patients’ perspectives. There is no definition of a student ward, and little research on what the term means. A deeper understanding of the characteristics of student wards is needed to support their use. The aim of this study is to describe what characterises the learning environment on one student ward.


An ethnographic approach was used for an observational study on a student ward in a hospital in Sweden. Student nurses, supervisors and others on the ward were observed. Field notes were thematically analysed.


Four themes were identified: ‘Student-led learning’ described students learning by actively performing clinical tasks and taking responsibility for patients and for their own learning. ‘Learning together’ described peer learning and supervision. ‘Staff’s approach to learning’ described personalised relationships between the students and staff and the build-up of trust, the unified inter-professional approach to teaching, and the supervisors’ motivation for teaching and for their own learning. ‘Student-dedicated space’ described the effect of the student room on the learning environment.

Discussion and conclusions

This study describes the characteristics of a student ward that centred around a community of practice that shared a view of learning as a priority, allowing staff to provide clinical care without compromising students’ learning. This qualitative study at a single centre lays the groundwork for future research into other student wards.
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