Medical student misconceptions in cardiovascular physiology

Adv Physiol Educ. 2021 Jun 1;45(2):241-249. doi: 10.1152/advan.00220.2020.


Students find cardiovascular physiology challenging. Misunderstandings can be due to the nature of the subject, the way it is taught, and prior knowledge, which impede learning of new concepts. Some misunderstood concepts can be corrected with teaching (i.e., preconceptions), whereas others are resistant to instruction (i.e., misconceptions). A set of questions, specifically created by a panel of physiology experts to probe difficult cardiovascular concepts, was used to identify preconceptions, misconceptions, and the effect of education level on question performance. The introductory cardiovascular lecture used in this study was created based on these questions. In-class polling of medical students' (n = 736) performance was performed using the Turning-Point clicker response system during lecture instruction. Results were compared with published data from undergraduates (n = 1,076) who completed the same questions but without prior instruction. To our knowledge, there have been no studies directly comparing performance using the same instrument and large numbers of undergraduate and medical students. A higher education level was associated with increased performance (preconceptions), whereas several concepts resistant to instruction (misconceptions) were identified. Findings suggest that prior knowledge interfered with the acquisition of medical knowledge. Based on these results, potential causes for these misconceptions and remedial teaching suggestions are discussed.

Keywords: cardiovascular physiology; conceptual difficulties; difficult concepts; medical education; pedagogy.