Purpose: Cardiac auscultation is suffering from a declining interest caused by competing diagnostic technology and, possibly, inadequate teaching and testing of physicians-in-training. Because access to technology, traditional teaching practices, and methods of trainees' assessment vary among different countries, we speculated that trainees' proficiency in auscultation might also vary.
Subjects and methods: We tested the cardiac auscultatory skills of 314 internal medicine residents (189 from the United States, 89 from Canada, and 36 from England) from 14 programs. All participants were asked to listen by stethophones to 12 prerecorded cardiac events and to answer a multiple-choice questionnaire. They also completed a survey concerning attitudes toward cardiac auscultation and auscultatory teaching received during training.
Results: Mean (+/- SD) identification scores for the 12 cardiac events ranged from 0% to 58% for American trainees (mean 22% +/- 12%), 0% to 58% for Canadians (mean 26% +/- 13%), and 0% to 42% for British trainees (mean 20% +/- 12%). Canadians' cumulative scores were slightly but significantly greater than those of American (P = 0.02) and British house officers (P = 0.05). British house officers improved the most during the 3 years of training (P < 0.05). Canadian and British trainees had received more auscultatory teaching during medical school and residency; they had also used audiotapes more frequently (all P < 0.001).
Conclusions: Auscultatory proficiency was poor in all three countries. Although there were slight differences among countries, the most striking finding was the consistent inaccuracy of all trainees. This suggests that variables other than teaching and testing affect proficiency.