Purpose: Studies have shown that medical students become more cynical and less altruistic as they advance in training. However, these studies were conducted in traditional medical schools, and many used unvalidated tools. This study examined students' attitudes in a problem-based learning (PBL) curriculum using reliable and valid measures.
Method: Medical students and PGY-1 residents at Mercer University School of Medicine in Macon, Georgia, completed Wrightsman's Philosophies of Human Natures Scale (PHNS) in 1999 and 2000. Chronbach's alpha assessed internal reliability among subscales, and test–retest reliability coefficients confirmed acceptable reliability. For 114 students who completed both surveys, changes in PHNS scores were analyzed, with particular attention to the subscales of trustworthiness, altruism, and cynicism.
Results: Students assessed at the beginning of their second year increased the extent to which they believed people are trustworthy and increased their beliefs in how altruistic people are. They also showed a significant decrease in cynicism. There was not a significant change in trustworthiness, altruism, or cynicism among the participants beyond first year. In general, female students held less cynical views about others and believed people to be more trustworthy.
Conclusions: Contrary to prior reports, this study found that more advanced trainees were not more cynical or less altruistic than their more junior counterparts. Indeed, a significant and positive change of attitudes among the participants during their first year of medical school refuted earlier reports. Thus, results of earlier studies and the effect of a PBL curriculum on attitudes of medical students need to be re-examined.