Background: Although Virtual Patients (VPs) are more commonly used today there is no clear-cut picture of the nature of VPs as a learning tool. This means that educators hesitate in further curricular integration of VPs. Students and educators need examples of how this innovation can support student learning in practice.
Summary of work: We have analysed the use of VPs in a clinical rotation of medical students of rheumatology lasting 2-4 weeks. The phenomenological approach was used in order to maximise the student perspective. Focus lied with the character of VP learning and the immediate framework supporting meaningful learning with VPs at the clinic. We interviewed31 students followed by a phenomenological analysis of the transcriptions. This resulted inincreased knowledge of the value of VPs in this setting.
Summary of results: VPs as a learning tool play a role of enhancing the value of other learning activities at the clinic. The immediate framework affects the way that students approach VPs. When students work in pairs, reflection and argumentation strengthen the learning experience.
Conclusions: The study approach provided a way to characterise learning with VPs as enhancing the value of clinical education.
Take-home messages: Phenomenological research interviews provide a way of discovering the value of innovations in medical education.