Cognitive difficulty in physicians

Acad Med. 2000 Feb;75(2):177-81. doi: 10.1097/00001888-200002000-00018.


Purpose: Remediation of some incompetent physicians has proven difficult or impossible. The authors sought to determine whether physicians with impaired competency had neuropsychological impairment sufficient to explain their incompetence and their failure to improve with remedial continuing medical education (CME).

Method: During a one-year period, 1996-97, all 27 participants in the Physician Review Program (PREP) conducted at McMaster University, a physician competency assessment program, undertook a detailed neuropsychological screening battery.

Results: Nearly all physicians assessed as competent also performed well on the neuropsychological testing. However, a significant number (about one third) of the physicians who performed poorly on the competency assessment had neuropsychological impairments sufficient to explain their poor performances. The difficulties were more marked in elderly physicians.

Conclusion: A significant minority of incompetent physicians have cognitive impairments sufficient to explain both their incompetence and, probably, their failure to improve with remedial CME. Testing physicians for these impairments is important: to detect and treat reversible conditions, to manage irreversible conditions that preclude successful educational intervention, and to facilitate compensation in this instance. Serious consideration should be given to the incorporation of neuropsychological screening in all intensive physician review programs.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Clinical Competence*
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Ontario
  • Physician Impairment*