Developing Physical Exam Skills in Residency: Comparing the Perspectives of Residents and Faculty About Values, Barriers, and Teaching Methods

J Med Educ Curric Dev. 2020 Nov 26;7:2382120520972675. doi: 10.1177/2382120520972675. eCollection Jan-Dec 2020.


Background: The physical examination (PE) skills of residents are often not improved since medical school. Unfortunately, how residents learn PE is not well understood. There is a paucity of research on the factors involved and the differences between resident and faculty perspectives. The authors sought to determine resident and faculty perceptions about the value of PE, the major barriers to learning PE, and the most effective teaching methods.

Methods: Based on a rigorous process of literature review and semi-structured interviews, the authors developed an online survey which was sent to 406 internal medicine residents and 93 faculty at 3 institutions. Residents and faculty answered questions about both their own opinions and about their perception of the other group's opinions.

Results: About 283 residents (70%) and 61 faculty (66%) completed the survey. Both residents and faculty rated the importance of PE similarly. Residents rated being too busy, followed by a lack of feedback, as the most significant barriers to learning PE. Faculty rated a lack of feedback, followed by a lack of resident accountability, as the most significant barriers. Both groups rated the availability of abnormal findings as the least significant barrier. Both groups agreed that faculty demonstration at the bedside was the most effective teaching method.

Conclusion: This survey can serve as a needs assessment for educational interventions to improve the PE skills of residents by focusing on areas of agreement between residents and faculty, specifically faculty demonstration at the bedside combined with feedback about residents' skills.

Keywords: Physical examination; clinical skills; curriculum development; graduate medical education; residency.