Placement or displacement: An ethnographic study of space in the clinical learning environment

Shalini Gupta*, Stella Howden, Mandy Moffat, Lindsey Pope, Cate Kennedy

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    1 Citation (Scopus)


    Purpose: This paper aims to examine the spatial attributes in the hospital ward environment and their impact on medical students’ learning and experience of the clinical workplace.

    Materials and methods: An ethnographic study was conducted in a Scottish teaching hospital, combining observations and interviews over a period of 10 months. Two teaching wards served as the field-sites where approximately 120 h of non-participant observations took place sequentially. In addition, 34 individual interviews were conducted with identified key informants that included medical students, junior doctors, postgraduate trainees, consultant supervisors, ward nurses and hospital pharmacist. A combination of Actor-network Theory (ANT) and Social cognitive theory (SCT) was applied to analyse data pertaining to spatial attributes and their relevance to clinical teaching and learning.

    Results: Analysis of the observational and interview data led to generation of the following themes: spatial attributes in the clinical workplace can enable or constrain teaching and learning opportunities, inadequate spaces impact students’ and junior doctors’ sense of value, short clinical rotations influence a sense of ownership of doctors’ spaces, and contested nature of space in the clinical environment. Several illustrations of the field-sites help to contextualise the themes and aid in understanding the participants’ experiences and perceptions.

    Conclusions: Our findings suggest a complex entanglement of space with medical students learning and wellbeing in the clinical workplace. Provision of suitable spaces needs to be a core consideration to realise the full potential of work-based learning in medicine.

    Original languageEnglish
    JournalMedical Teacher
    Early online date1 Nov 2023
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 1 Nov 2023


    • clinical workplace
    • learning
    • Space
    • student wellbeing
    • undergraduate medical education

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Education


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