We used Chronbach's alpha to assess internal reliability for each subscale in each year of administration. In addition, for those who completed both administrations of the PHNS, test–retest reliability coefficients were computed. As is evident in Table 2, all reliability coefficients exceeded customary standards for acceptable reliability (.70). There is no evidence of differential reliability as a function of year of administration.
To investigate cohort effects more fully, a 3 (subscale) × 3 (status: first, second, and third years) × 2 (gender) × 2 (year of administration) ANOVA was completed on PHNS scores. (Fourth-year students and PGY-1 residents were excluded from these analyses because of low frequencies for first administration in 2000 for fourth-year students and in both years for PGY-1 residents.) For this purpose, the only effects of interest were those involving year of administration, and none of the effects associated with this variable was significant (largest F = 1.49, p = .23). Therefore, the students who completed their first administration in 1999 did not differ from those who completed their first administration in 2000.
Change in Philosophies of Human Nature
Changes in PHNS scores were analyzed with a 3 (subscale) × 2 (administration: first versus second) × 4 (status) × 2 (gender) ANOVA; only the 114 participants who completed both administrations were included in this analysis. There was no main effect for gender, F (1, 106) = 0.38, p = .54, but there was a gender × subscale interaction, F (2, 212) = 6.06, p < .003. On average, female students believed people to be significantly more trustworthy (p < .04: meanF = .37; meanM = .04) and were significantly less cynical about people (p < .004: meanF = −.6; meanM = −.05) than their male counterparts, but there was no difference in the extents to which female and male students believed people were generally altruistic (p > .09: meanF = .35; meanM = .08). Although some main effects and two-way interactions among the remaining variables were significant, they were superceded by a significant three-way interaction among subscale, administration, and status, F (6, 212) = 3.57, p = .0022. This interaction was further analyzed by performing separate one-way, repeated-measures ANOVAs in which subscale was the independent variable and change score (time 2 – time 1) was the dependent variable.
By the beginning of their second year, the students had increased the extent to which they believed people are trustworthy [F (1, 31) = 9.04, p = .0052; M1 = −.09, M2 = .22] and increased their beliefs in how altruistic people are [F (1, 31) = 11.94, p = .0016; M1 = −.11, M2 = .37]. Cynicism also decreased significantly during the first year [F (1, 31) = 5.88, p = .0213; M1 = .12, M2 = −.27]. Compared with their first-year scores, second-year students held significantly more positive philosophies of human nature.
Beliefs of third-year students were not significantly different from those demonstrated at the start of their second year. There was no significant change exhibited for trustworthiness [F (1, 31) = 3.17, p = .08; M1 = .32, M2 = .00], altruism [F (1, 32) = 2.47, p = .13; M1= .38, M2 = .19], or cynicism [F (1, 31) = 0.58, p = .45; M1 = −.48, M2 = −.27]. Similarly, fourth-year students exhibited no change in trustworthiness [F (1, 31) = 0.72, p = .40; M1 = −.03, M2 = .05], altruism [F (1, 32) = 0.13, p = .72; M1 = −.04, M2 = .05], or cynicism [F (1, 31) = 1.30, p = .24; M1 = .00, M2 = −.08]. The same pattern of no change held for PGY-1 residents: trustworthiness [F (1, 31) = 0.12, p = .74; M1 = .51, M2 = .59], altruism [F (1, 31) = 0.01, p = .93; M1 = .48, M2 = .41], cynicism [F (1, 31) = 0.10, p = .75; M1 = −.73, M2 = −.83].
Thus, the subscale × administration × status interaction, summarized in Figure 1, occurred because students' philosophies of human nature changed during the first year of medical school only. While the change was positive, subscale scoring was such that views about the trustworthiness and altruistic tendencies of people became more positive but cynical beliefs about people became more negative (less cynical).
Although attitudinal changes have been documented repeatedly in longitudinal studies of medical students, we are not aware of any research inside a strict PBL format. Moreover, many earlier studies have been flawed either by design or by use of an invalid survey instrument. In our prospective cohort study using the PHNS, we found significant changes of students' attitudes after they completed their first year of medical school. After one year in a PBL curriculum, the students had increased feelings that people are trustworthy and altruistic, and a decreased belief about cynicism. Beyond second year, we documented no significant change over time in the students' attitudes. These findings are, of course, different from those in previous studies in which less reliable measures of cynicism were employed.
While we would like to attribute these findings to a PBL curriculum, we recognize our method was different from those used in prior studies of students' attitudes in medical education, and therefore our study may not be comparable. The PHNS measures attitudes in general, attitudes that “seem to be learned early, held widely, and changed with difficulty.”11 Applying this instrument in any school, even one using more traditional methods to educate students, may not show differences in students' attitudes from year to year. Although there have been several recent reports of the negative impact of medical education on humanistic dimensions of doctoring,2,12,13 whether medical students' feelings about basic human nature change in any curriculum is questionable.
In our study, we concentrated on students' feelings about trustworthiness, altruism, and cynicism. While not measuring students' personal characteristics, the PHNS does show validity in measuring attitudes. In tracking these attitudes for just one year, we found it interesting that they did not deteriorate over the clinical years of medical school. Even more intriguing, perhaps, is that attitudes among our students improved during the first year. This lessening of cynicism is contrary to opinions expressed in the focus group held before our study was started in 1999, and begs the question of the importance of small-group learning in the development of attitudes of medical students. A 1994–95 survey among medical students from traditional and nontraditional schools in Canada led the authors to conclude that the PBL curriculum “fosters better teacher–student relationships during the pre-clinical years” than the traditional model.13 Preclinical faculty perceived as supportive of students may have much to do with the acquisition of “caring competence” by those students, and this could explain the improvement of students' attitudes after the first year in our school.
This positive effect on attitudes during the first year was never erased as the students moved from second to third year, third to fourth year, or fourth year to graduation, a finding that agrees with Peters, who reported the long-term effects of the New Pathway (a PBL curriculum) at Harvard. In this randomized controlled trial, she noted that even almost ten years after graduation, the New Pathway graduates had more humanistic outlooks than did their peers who had gone through the traditional curriculum.14
As we have noted, our study population was limited to students and recent graduates of a medical school designed to produce primary care physicians for one Southeastern state. Our student body may be different from others because our school may attract students with more altruistic qualities, in concert with the school's stated mission. Attitudes might be significantly different in schools with broader missions. Prior studies have been done in larger schools among students from different regions of the country. Future studies might be conducted at schools with different curricula and missions, and in different geographic areas.
In addition, our findings had a notable gender gap: Women held less cynical views about others and believed people are more trustworthy. Since our participants were 57% female, one could argue the preponderance of women kept a negative trend from showing up, but this was not apparent on multivariate analysis. Dr. Bernard Lown once lamented that the influx of women into medicine did not actually humanize medical care, as once was hoped. He now feels the very converse is happening, as women, competing with a male-dominated order, must “androgenize” to succeed.15 Our data do not support this opinion, and ongoing surveillance and broader study seem necessary.
We conclude from the present data that more advanced medical students and graduates of our school are not more cynical or less altruistic than their more junior counterparts. Indeed, some significant turn in the positive direction occurred over the first year of our study, during the participants' first year of medical school. Whether this represents a change in medical students' attitudes in general, an increase in the proportion of women attending medical school, or a difference produced by the PBL curriculum, however, remains to be seen from later years in our longitudinal study and upon replication of this research at schools without a PBL curriculum.
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© 2003 Association of American Medical Colleges
15. Bernard Lown, MD, Professor Emeritus, Cardiology, Harvard University School of Medicine, personal communication with WPR, 1/15/02.