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Acad Emerg Med. 2005 Jul;12(7):622-8.

Competence of new emergency medicine residents in the performance of lumbar punctures.

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Department of Emergency Medicine, Michigan State University/Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies, 1000 Oakland Drive, Kalamazoo, MI 49008, USA. <>



Medical students are taught some procedural skills during medical school, but there is no uniform set of procedures that all students learn before residency.


To determine the level of competence in the performance of a lumbar puncture (LP) by new postgraduate year 1 (PGY1) emergency medicine (EM) residents.


An observational study was conducted at three EM residencies with 42 PGY1 residents who recently graduated from 26 various medical schools. The LP procedure was divided into 26 major and 44 minor steps to create a scoring protocol. The model, procedure, and scoring protocol were validated by experienced emergency physicians. Subjects performed the procedure without interruption or feedback on an LP training model using a standard LP kit. A step was scored as "performed correctly" if two of the three evaluators concurred. Pre- and poststudy questionnaires assessed subjects' prior instruction and clinical experience with LP, self-confidence, sense of relevance, motivation, and fatigue.


Subjects completed an average of 14.8 (57%; 95% confidence interval [95% CI] = 53% to 61%) of the major steps (range: 4-26) and 19.1 (43%; 95% CI = 42% to 45%) of the minor steps (range: 7-28) in 14.3 minutes (range: 3-22). Sixty-nine percent failed to obtain cerebrospinal fluid from the model. Subjects' levels of confidence changed slightly on a five-point scale from 2.8 ("little-to-some") before the test to 2.5 after the test. Eighty-three percent of the subjects previously performed LPs on patients during medical school (average attempts = 2.2; range: 0-10), but only 40% of those who did so were supervised by an attending during their first attempt.


In the cohort studied, new PGY1 EM residents had not attained competence in performing LPs from training in medical school. Most new PGY1 residents probably require training, practice, and close, direct supervision of this procedure by attending physicians until the residents demonstrate competent performance.

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