Teaching Rapid Assessment Skills in Triage for the Emergency Medicine Clerkship

J Emerg Med. 2021 Jul;61(1):76-81. doi: 10.1016/j.jemermed.2021.02.005. Epub 2021 Mar 29.


Background: Rapidly assessing an undifferentiated patient and developing a gestalt for "sick vs. not sick" is a core component of emergency medicine (EM). Developing this skill requires clinical experience and pattern recognition, which can be difficult to attain during a typical EM clerkship.

Objective: We developed a novel approach to teaching medical students rapid assessment skills in the emergency department (ED) by implementing a teaching shift in triage.

Methods: Fourth-year medical students in our EM clerkship in fall 2019 were scheduled one shift in triage with a dedicated teaching attending. The students evaluated patients under direct supervision, discussed their immediate differential diagnosis, and proposed an initial workup. The attending gave real-time feedback using a standardized direct observation tool. Students completed an electronic pre and post survey (5-point Likert scale) to assess their comfort level in the following areas: performing a rapid triage assessment, determining "sick vs. not sick", performing a focused physical examination, developing a targeted differential diagnosis, and ordering an initial diagnostic workup.

Results: Twenty-one students participated in the triage shifts. There was a significant improvement in self-assessed comfort with performing a rapid triage assessment, mean pre 2.76 and post 4.43 (p < 0.0001). There were also significant improvements in the four other survey areas (p < 0.004 or less).

Conclusions: A teaching shift in triage can increase medical students' self-assessed rapid assessment skills for patients in the ED. Benefits to the teaching attending included the opportunity to perform direct observation, give real-time feedback, and identify real-time teaching moments.

Keywords: clerkship; direct observation; rapid assessment; triage; undergraduate medical education.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Clerkship*
  • Clinical Competence
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Emergency Medicine* / education
  • Humans
  • Students, Medical*
  • Teaching
  • Triage