Variations in senior medical student diagnostic justification ability

Acad Med. 2014 May;89(5):790-8. doi: 10.1097/ACM.0000000000000215.


Purpose: To determine the diagnostic justification proficiency of senior medical students across a broad spectrum of cases with common chief complaints and diagnoses.

Method: The authors gathered diagnostic justification exercise data from the Senior Clinical Comprehensive Examination taken by Southern Illinois University School of Medicine's students from the classes of 2011 (n = 67), 2012 (n = 66), and 2013 (n = 79). After interviewing and examining standardized patients, students listed their key findings and diagnostic possibilities considered, and provided a written explanation of how they used key findings to move from their initial differential diagnoses to their final diagnosis. Two physician judges blindly rated responses.

Results: Student diagnostic justification performance was highly variable from case to case and often rated below expectations. Of the students in the classes of 2011, 2012, and 2013, 57% (38/67), 23% (15/66), and 33% (26/79) were judged borderline or poor on diagnostic justification performance for more than 50% of the cases on the examination.

Conclusions: Student diagnostic justification performance was inconsistent across the range of cases, common chief complaints, and underlying diagnoses used in this study. More than 20% of students exhibited borderline or poor diagnostic justification performance on more than 50% of the cases. If these results are confirmed in other medical schools, attention needs to be directed to investigating new curricular methods that ensure deliberate practice of these competencies across the spectrum of common chief complaints and diagnoses and do not depend on the available mix of patients.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Clerkship / methods*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Diagnostic Errors*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Educational Measurement*
  • Evaluation Studies as Topic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Illinois
  • Male
  • Medical History Taking
  • Physical Examination
  • Schools, Medical
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult