From Passive Gatekeeper to Quarterback: Evolving Perceptions of Primary Care Among Medical Students in Longitudinal Outpatient Clerkships

Bruce L. Henschen*, Sara Shaunfield, Blair P. Golden, Lauren A. Gard, Jennifer Bierman, Daniel B. Evans, Diane B. Wayne, Elizabeth R. Ryan, Monica Yang, Kenzie A. Cameron

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Background: Longitudinal clerkships provide students with meaningful clinical care roles that promote learning and professional development. It remains unclear how longitudinal primary care clerkships inform students’ perceptions of primary care. Objective: To explore perceptions of primary care among medical students enrolled in longitudinal primary care clerkships. Design: Qualitative, semi-structured interviews with medical students over 4 years. Participants: Thirty-eight medical students participated at baseline; 35 participated in a 2-year follow-up interview; 24 participated at 4 years. Each student was enrolled in one of two longitudinal primary care clerkships: a team-based Education-Centered Medical Home (ECMH) or a one-on-one individual preceptorship (IP). Approach: De-identified interview transcripts were analyzed using a process of open and axial coding, followed by elaborative coding for longitudinal analysis. Codes were compiled into a set of themes and compared across time periods and between clerkships. Key Results: Students reported that primary care serves as a first point of contact, emphasizing longitudinal care with a wide scope of practice and approaching patient care with a biopsychosocial perspective. Student perceptions of primary care greatly expanded over the course of 4 years: for instance, initial perceptions of primary care physicians evolved from “passive gatekeeper” to a more nuanced “quarterback.” Students in ECMH, whose clerkship provided more opportunity for patient continuity, further reflected on the relationships they themselves developed with patients. Conclusions: Regardless of their eventual specialty choice, longitudinal experiences may aid all students in fostering a sense of the broad scope and importance of primary care. However, without numerous opportunities to witness continuity of care, students may perceive primary care as having limited scope and importance. Longitudinal clerkships, emphasizing continuity with patients and preceptors, may foster in students a broad and nuanced perspective of the scope of primary care as a field.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)608-614
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of general internal medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2022


  • longitudinal clerkships
  • primary care education
  • qualitative methods
  • undergraduate medical education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Internal Medicine


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