Improving primary care residents' proficiency in the diagnosis of skin cancer

J Gen Intern Med. 1998 Feb;13(2):91-7. doi: 10.1046/j.1525-1497.1998.00024.x.


Objective: To determine whether a brief, multicomponent intervention could improve the skin cancer diagnosis and evaluation planning performance of primary care residents to a level equivalent to that of dermatologists.

Participants: Fifty-two primary care residents (26 in the control group and 26 in the intervention group) and 13 dermatologists completed a pretest and posttest.

Design: A randomized, controlled trial with pretest and posttest measurements of residents' ability to diagnose and make evaluation plans for lesions indicative of skin cancer.

Intervention: The intervention included face-to-face feedback sessions focusing on residents' performance deficiencies; an interactive seminar including slide presentations, case examples, and live demonstrations; and the Melanoma Prevention Kit including a booklet, magnifying tool, measuring tool, and skin color guide.

Measurements and main results: We compared the abilities of a control and an intervention group of primary care residents, and a group of dermatologists to diagnose and make evaluation plans for six categories of skin lesions including three types of skin cancer-malignant melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and basal cell carcinoma. At posttest, both the intervention and control group demonstrated improved performance, with the intervention group revealing significantly larger gains. The intervention group showed greater improvement than the control group across all six diagnostic categories (a gain of 13 percentage points vs 5, p < .05), and in evaluation planning for malignant melanoma (a gain of 46 percentage points vs 36, p < .05) and squamous cell carcinoma (a gain of 42 percentage points vs 21, p < .01). The intervention group performed as well as the dermatologists on five of the six skin cancer diagnosis and evaluation planning scores with the exception of the diagnosis of basal cell carcinoma.

Conclusions: Primary care residents can diagnose and make evaluation plans for cancerous skin lesions, including malignant melanoma, at a level equivalent to that of dermatologists if they receive relevant, targeted education.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence*
  • Dermatology / education
  • Family Practice / education*
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Skin Neoplasms / diagnosis*