Background: This research sought to identify the strengths and weakness in residents' basic science knowledge and, second, to determine whether they progressively improve in their abilities to recall basic science information and clinical management facts, to analyze cause-effect relationships, and to solve clinical problems.
Methods and results: Basic science knowledge was assessed by means of the results of the January 1990 American Board of Surgery's In-Training/Surgical Basic Science Exam (IT/SBSE). Postgraduate year (PGY) 1 residents' scores were compared with those of PGY5 residents. Content related to a question was considered "known" if 67% or more of the residents in each of the two groups answered it correctly. Findings showed 44% of the content tested by the basic science questions were unknown by new and graduating residents. The second research question required the 250 IT/SBSE questions to be classified into one of three levels of thinking abilities: recall, analysis, and inferential thinking. Profile analysis (split-plot analysis of variance) for each pair of resident levels indicated significant (P < 0.001) differences in performance on questions requiring factual recall, analysis, and inference between all levels except for PGY3s and PGY4s.
Conclusions: The results of this research enable program directors to evaluate strengths and weaknesses in residency training curricula and the cognitive development of residents.