Methods for teaching physical examination skills to medical students

Fam Med. 2003 May;35(5):343-8.


Background and objectives: Teaching physical examination (PE) skills is a fundamental component of medical education. However, there is little information available about how medical school faculty teach PE skills. This study surveyed PE course directors to determine how they presently teach PE skills, the methods that are perceived to be the best, and how standardized patients (SPs) are recruited and paid.

Methods: A written survey was mailed to PE course directors at US allopathic and osteopathic medical schools.

Results: PE course directors at 83 (58%) schools responded. Results indicate that the top three methods presently used for teaching (demonstration on an SP, practice on an SP, and practice on patients) and those perceived to be the best methods are the same but in different rank order. A significant difference was observed in the overall mean scores of the present methods versus the best methods in 8 of the 10 teaching methods; thus, instructors are not always using the best methods to teach PE. There were also differences in methods used to teach "sensitive areas" (ie, genital or breast exam).

Conclusions: The highest-ranked methods for teaching PE are demonstrations and practice with SPs and practice on real patients. However, PE instructors are not always using the teaching methods they deem best.

MeSH terms

  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Physical Examination*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires