Objectives: There is widespread recognition that physical examination (PE) should be taught in Graduate Medical Education (GME), but little is known regarding how to best teach PE to residents. Deliberate practice fosters expertise in other fields, but its utility in teaching PE is unknown. We systematically reviewed the literature to determine the effectiveness of methods to teach PE in GME, with attention to usage of deliberate practice.
Data sources: We searched PubMed, ERIC, and EMBASE for English language studies regarding PE education in GME published between January 1951 and December 2012.
Study eligibility criteria: Seven eligibility criteria were applied to studies of PE education: (1) English language; (2) subjects in GME; (3) description of study population; (4) description of intervention; (5) assessment of efficacy; (6) inclusion of control group; and (7) report of data analysis.
Study appraisal and synthesis methods: We extracted data regarding study quality, type of PE, study population, curricular features, use of deliberate practice, outcomes and assessment methods. Tabulated summaries of studies were reviewed for narrative synthesis.
Results: Fourteen studies met inclusion criteria. The mean Medical Education Research Study Quality Instrument (MERSQI) score was 9.0 out of 18. Most studies (n = 8) included internal medicine residents. Half of the studies used resident interaction with a human examinee as the primary means of teaching PE. Three studies "definitely" and four studies "possibly" used deliberate practice; all but one of these studies demonstrated improved educational outcomes.
Limitations: We used a non-validated deliberate practice assessment. Given the heterogeneity of assessment modalities, we did not perform a meta-analysis.
Conclusions and implications of key findings: No single strategy for teaching PE in GME is clearly superior to another. Following the principles of deliberate practice and interaction with human examinees may be beneficial in teaching PE; controlled studies including these educational features should be performed to investigate these exploratory findings.