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5 Benefits of Using Case Studies for EMS Education

How does information grow past the shallow ground of recall only? Facts alone, wither. Context and application are necessary for roots to form. Roots form dense information networks, made visible through demonstrable competence and expertise in the field.

Case studies have a rich history in medicine as an educational tool for clinical personnel. They nurture deep learning by building upon prior knowledge gained from personal experience and education to achieve optimal patient outcomes. Case studies are appropriate for EMS education because of their subject matter—common complaints or fatal conditions if misdiagnosed—and frequently feature unusual presentations of a disease as a result.

The following list highlights some of the benefits case studies have to offer.

1. Case studies depict realistic clinical scenarios.

Case studies don’t plagiarize Grey’s Anatomy screenplays. Depicted patients and disease progressions are true to life. The order in which events unfold mirrors the real-life revelatory process of an ED clinical encounter when the responsible organ system isn’t immediately recognizable. Often, case studies are supplemented by real lab results, vitals, x-rays, and diagnostic test reports that students can consult in the decision-making process. Realistic clinical scenarios help students grasp the practical applications of taught concepts. They also prompt reflection by demanding those involved to consider alternative interventions that may have improved the patient outcome.

Case studies are most effective when led by instructors who experienced the studied event firsthand. They provide an insider’s perspective into care decisions. What may seem obvious when presented academically is not always apparent when observed on-scene. An instructor who witnessed the event and participated in care can point out these pitfalls from the benefit of hindsight.

2. Case studies increase student participation and enjoyment of learning.

Case studies enliven learning through increased participation and enjoyment. In one study, the overwhelming majority of faculty (95.1%) agreed that students took an active part in the learning process when they used case studies.1 Participation helps the instructor gauge student comprehension in real-time and course-correct as needed. Increased interaction among students and instructors means that participants problem-solve as a team. Teamwork is an essential component of clinical care in the field. No man is an island when saving lives.

Unlike some educational methods, the instructor is vital to a successful case study curriculum. They jump-start critical thinking processes by questioning, guiding, and refocusing students on problem resolution.

Enjoyment makes for more memorable learning, which aids recall ability. It may remind participants why they chose their profession and subsequently re-energize their work. In a study comparing case-based learning with problem-based learning, students reported greater enjoyment of case-based learning in part because it led to fewer off-topic tangents.2 Stated objectives at the outset of the case study help learners and instructors stay focused.

Student confidence also increased. When surveyed, students perceived significant learning gains from case-based learning.3 In an anatomy and physiology course, the mean score across all exams given in a 2-semester sequence increased from 66% to 73%.3

3. Case studies are ideal for sharing new information.

Medicine evolves. Best practices change as new information becomes available. Case studies provide the necessary context for justifying procedural changes to experienced staff accustomed to the old way of doing things. They also help orient new staff to the specific patient populations encountered by the unit.4

4. Case studies promote critical thinking.

In a national survey, polled faculty agreed that case studies helped students view an issue from multiple perspectives.1 As part of their design, case studies facilitate appreciation for the nuances of the disease process. Case studies capitalize upon prior knowledge through application and strengthen clinical skills. Simplified or made complicated, they can either reinforce or challenge the basics to expand learning.

5. Case studies may improve clinical outcomes.

Evidence exists that the case-study method improves patient outcomes. Its methodical approach encourages systematic review, preventing medical errors. In Portugal, case-based learning increased adverse drug event reporting among 4,000 physicians.2 Another study attributed a case-based learning intervention to decreased hemoglobin A1C in diabetic patients. In the same study, metformin was also less likely to be prescribed in patients with contraindications.2

In summary, if you want to dig deep and improve your educational experience, case studies are your go-to learning tool.


  1. Yadav A, Lundeberg M, Deschryver M, Dirkin K,  Schiller N, Maier K, Herreid Clyde. Teaching science with case studies: A national survey of faculty perceptions of the benefits and challenges of using cases. Journal of College Science Teaching. 2007; 37; 34-38.
  2. McLean SF. Case-based learning and its application in medical and health-care fields: A review of worldwide literature. Journal of Medical Education and Curricular Development. 2016; 3. doi:10.4137/JMECD.S20377
  3. Bonney K M.  Case study teaching method improves student performance and perceptions of learning gains. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education. 2015; 16(1); 21–28. https://doi.org/10.1128/jmbe.v16i1.846
  4. Sprang, SM. Making the case using case studies for staff development. Journal for Nurses in Staff Development. 2010; 26 (2); E6–E10. doi:10.1097/nnd.0b013e31819b5ee5

Rachel OrtonRachel Orton is a former certified medical assistant of women’s health. She graduated from the University of Utah with an English degree and works as a freelance copy editor and content consultant. Recently, she ran the blog for BetterRx, a technology company specializing in hospice pharmacy services.



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