Using Problem-Based Learning in Teaching Advanced Health Assessment: An Innovative Approach

John W. Distler, MS, FNP-C, DPA, FAANP


Topics in Advanced Practice Nursing eJournal. 2008;8(2) 

In This Article


Faculty in the Family Nurse Practitioner program at the University of Maryland School of Nursing, Baltimore, Maryland, successfully implemented a change in teaching strategies that was based on the principles of problem-based learning (PBL). Using theories of adult and experiential learning, strategies were developed that focused on student-centered approaches, with faculty acting as facilitators.

Problem-Based Learning

Advanced physical assessment is traditionally a course that moves nurse practitioner (NP) students into advanced roles. The long-established course format is to focus on taking a detailed history and performing a complete physical examination. Over time, it was clear to our faculty that this method did not prepare the NP student to function effectively and efficiently in their initial clinical experience. As a result, a model centered on PBL principles, and experiential and adult learning theory was developed as an innovative approach in teaching advanced health assessment.

PBL was first developed at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, in 1965 for the education of physicians. On the basis of the principles of adult learning theory,[1] foundational principles of PBL include student-centered learning, the use of problem solving and hypothesis testing, the application of knowledge into practice, and the identification of learning needs.[2]

PBL has been evaluated for its effectiveness by a variety of professional disciplines with a wide range of research designs and results. Many studies compared the effectiveness of PBL with traditional methods of instruction, whereas other studies evaluated student and faculty satisfaction. Subsequently, results have been mixed with respect to the effectiveness of this teaching strategy.[3,4,5]


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