Background: Any curriculum change is essentially an environmental change; therefore there is a need to assess the impact of any change in the curriculum on the students' perception of the Educational Environment (EE) and psychological well-being. The objectives of the current study are to (i) compare the EE perceptions of medical students studying in a System Based Curriculum (SBC) with those studying in a traditional curriculum (ii) compare the rate of depressive symptoms among the same students studying in both types of curricula (iii) determine whether there is a difference in the EE perception and depressive symptoms based on gender and year of study.
Methods. A cross sectional survey was conducted in a Saudi Medical School from 2007-2011, a period in which the school transitioned from a traditional to a SBC. A bilingual version of the Dundee Ready Educational Environment Measure (DREEM) inventory was used for measuring the EE; the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI II) was used for screening of depressive symptoms. A separate demographic questionnaire was also used. Mean scores and percentages were calculated. Continuous variables were summarized as means and standard deviation. For comparison of means, the effect size and student t test (with significance level of <0.05) were used. The percentages of the categorical data were compared using chi square test.
Results: The mean total DREEM score of positive perception of the EE in the SBC students was significantly higher (better) than the traditional curriculum students (p < 0.01) with an effect size of 0.472. The mean total score on the BDI-II inventory for depressive symptoms was higher (sicker) 21.3 among the female traditional curriculum students than 16.7 among the male traditional curriculum students and the difference was statistically significant (p = 0.001). The BDI score of the female SBC students (14.7) was significantly lower (healthier) than the female traditional curriculum students (21.3). No similar change was noted for the male students.
Conclusion: The current study adds to the advantages of the SBC indicating not only healthier EE for both genders but also healthier emotional well-being for female students only.