A 6-year longitudinal study was conducted to compare the perceived stress experienced during a 2-year master's physician assistant program by 5 cohorts of students enrolled in either problem-based learning (PBL) or lecture-based learning (LBL) curricular tracks. The association of perceived stress with academic achievement was also assessed.
Students rated their stress levels on visual analog scales in relation to family obligations, financial concerns, schoolwork, and relocation and overall on 6 occasions throughout the program. A mixed model analysis of variance examined the students' perceived level of stress by curriculum and over time. Regression analysis further examined school work-related stress after controlling for other stressors and possible lag effect of stress from the previous time point.
Students reported that overall stress increased throughout the didactic year followed by a decline in the clinical year with statistically significant curricular (PBL versus LBL) and time differences. PBL students also reported significantly more stress resulting from school work than LBL students at some time points. Moreover, when the other measured stressors and possible lag effects were controlled, significant differences between PBL and LBL students' perceived stress related to school work persisted at the 8- and 12-month measurement points. Increased stress in both curricula was associated with higher achievement in overall and individual organ system examination scores.
Physician assistant programs that embrace a PBL pedagogy to prepare students to think clinically may need to provide students with additional support through the didactic curriculum.