An assessment of emergency medicine residents' ability to perform in a multitasking environment

Acad Med. 2009 Sep;84(9):1289-94. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181b18e1c.


Purpose: Multitasking (MT) is a term often applied to emergency medicine (EM), but it is still poorly understood. In an effort to facilitate MT research in EM, the authors conducted this pilot study to describe EM residents' scores on a Multi-Tasking Assessment Tool (MTAT) and compare these scores with the residents' work efficiency in the emergency department.

Method: The authors administered a previously developed test of MT ability to EM residents. They performed a multiple regression analysis to determine the effect of MT ability on resident work efficiency, defining efficiency as the number of relative value units billed per hour. They controlled the analysis for year of training and medical knowledge using as a standard the in-service exam administered by the American Board of Emergency Medicine.

Results: Complete data for 35 residents were available for analysis. Work efficiency was multivariately correlated with MTAT scores and year of training (P < .05). Whereas year of training explained the majority of the variance, a resident's MT ability accounted for a smaller but still significant portion.

Conclusions: This pilot study further validates the MTAT and lays the groundwork for further research in MT in EM. Resident year of training and MTAT scores explain the variability in resident work efficiency significantly more than medical knowledge. Understanding MT ability may ultimately help in resident selection, education, and remediation as well as career counseling and improvement of practice systems in EM.

Publication types

  • Validation Study

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence*
  • Educational Measurement*
  • Efficiency
  • Emergency Medicine / education*
  • Emergency Service, Hospital
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency
  • Pilot Projects
  • Task Performance and Analysis