BACKGROUND: Investigators sought to clarify the characteristics of students' self-identified learning goals. METHOD: Goals collected from two schools were categorized into content themes and as "specific" or "general" qualitatively. Associations between learner characteristics and the distributions of goals were analyzed quantitatively. RESULTS: Investigators obtained 879 goals from 290 students. Clinical skills were most frequently identified (89%), followed by medical knowledge (44%), career choice (17%), and attitudinal goals (15%). Within clinical skills, 12 subcategories emerged. Improving oral presentations and critical-thinking ability were more common during the first six months (15% versus 7%, P = .05; 16% versus 8%, P = .04), whereas management skills dominated during the second half of the academic year (18% versus 31%, P = .01). Half of students (n = 146; 50%) listed only "general" goals, and the specificity did not increase over time. CONCLUSIONS: Students' main goal was acquiring clinical skills. Their focus within clinical skills shifted to more advanced skills but remained nonspecific.
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