Unstructured time (breaks) at formal continuing medical education (CME) events is nonaccredited in some jurisdictions. Program participants, however, perceive this time as valuable to their learning. The purpose of this research was to determine what activities occur during unstructured time in formal CME events and how these activities impact learning for physicians.
A qualitative method based on grounded theory was used to determine themes of behavior. Both individual and focus group interviews were conducted. Data were analyzed and coded into themes, which were then further explored and validated by the use of a questionnaire survey.
One hundred ninety-seven family physicians were involved in the study. Several activities related to the enhancement of learning were identified and grouped into themes. There were few differences in the ranking of importance between the themes identified, nor were differences determined based on gender or type of CME in which the break occurred.
The results suggest that unstructured time (breaks) should be included in formal CME events to help physician learners integrate new material, solve individual practice problems, and make new meaning out of their experience. The interaction between colleagues that occurs as a result of the provision of breaks is perceived as crucial in aiding the process of applying knowledge to practice.
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