Purpose: Didactic teaching conferences are a cornerstone of residents' training in internal medicine, yet these programs have received little formal evaluation. This study determines the factors associated with residents' attendance at didactic teaching conferences and the relationship of attendance to residents' scores on medical certification examinations.
Method: The attendance of 81 residents was recorded at 199 conferences at one university hospital's internal medicine residency program during the 1996-97 academic year. Characteristics of the conferences were recorded, including the date, whether lunch was provided, the daily census on the medicine general wards, daily ambient temperature, and conference type. Residents' scores on the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 2 and American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM) certification examination were collected.
Results: Residents' attendance at conferences was 34% overall or 54% excluding excused absences. Adjusting for the conferences' and residents' characteristics, attendance declined by one third as the year progressed. Providing lunch at noon conferences enhanced residents' attendance (odds ratio [OR] 1.26 overall and OR 1.64 for residents on inpatient rotations). Higher attendance was not associated with improvement in standardized medical knowledge test scores.
Conclusions: Absenteeism and waning attendance through the year have important implications for structuring didactic internal medicine teaching. Providing lunch improves attendance, but this incentive should be weighed against the potential burdens of the pharmaceutical industry's funding of these lunches. The lack of relationship between attendance and residents' adjusted board scores calls for a better understanding of the value of this high-intensity medical education intervention.