Study: 11% of medical schools spend 30 hours or less preparing pre-clerkship students for physical exam

The amount of time and resources medical schools use to teach pre-clerkship students the physical exam vary widely across the U.S., according to a study published in the journal of Academic Medicine Nov. 7.

For the study, researchers administered a 49-question survey, created by the Directors of Clinical Skills Courses, to all 141 medical schools accredited by the Liaison Committee on Medical Education.

Researchers found medical schools' resources varied "significantly" nationwide. Educators across all 141 medical schools spent a median of 59 hours teaching pre-clerkship students the physical exam. However, 11 percent of medical schools spent 30 hours or fewer teaching the exam, while 6 percent spent 200 hours or more.

Of the time spent teaching the physical exam, 38 percent of schools involved the use of standardized patients, while 30 percent utilized peer-to-peer practice and 25 percent used real patients.

The study also noted 20 percent of medical schools never had faculty observe students who were instructed to practice with real patients.

"The physical exam is a crucial skill for physicians, and several studies suggest that poor physical exam skills can lead to lower-quality care and medical errors," said Toshiko L. Uchida, MD, associate professor of medicine and medical education at the Chicago-based Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and one of the authors of the study.

"Some schools likely don't devote enough time or resources to teaching the physical exam in the pre-clerkship years," she added.

To access the study, click here.

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