A tutorial group from PA Class of 2016 working on a case.
What is Problem-Based Learning (PBL)? And more importantly, why should you care? Simply put, it is where the "problem" drives the learning. It is the teaching philosophy at McMaster University and at McMaster's Physician Assistant Education Program. It's radically different from your traditional didactic classroom environment, where you sit in a class and the teacher tells you what to study.
In the PA program, PBL is used in tutorials to understand the pathophysiology and management of diseases. Students work in a small group (around 8 members) on a case. The group meets twice a week for tutorial. A tutor, usually a physician, facilitates the discussion. Given a case study, below are the steps taken in each tutorial (just to give you an idea):
A new case is given (e.g. 47 year old male patient presents with shortness of breath…)
As a group, decide on what needs to be researched in order to understand what the patient is going through (setting objectives)
“Define Shortness of Breath”
“How does breathing work”
“What is the normal and abnormal respiratory rate”
Go home or to the library and research information that pertains to the case that can provide answers to the objectives
Regroup and share findings on the objectives set in the last tutorial
PBL is not just about self-studying. There are a lot of self researching and studying but regrouping allows input from group members to add to your knowledge. This means that being able to contribute to the group is important in succeeding in PBL.
If you are considering the PA program at McMaster, it may be worth researching what PBL is and whether this style of learning suits you.