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Acad Med. 2006 Oct;81(10 Suppl):S95-7.

Teaching foundational physical examination skills: study results comparing lay teaching associates and physician instructors.

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Center for Advancing Professional Excellence, University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, School of Medicine, P.O. Box 6508, Mail Stop F495, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.



The purpose of this pilot study was to determine differences in the physical exam skills of first-year medical students learning physical exam exclusively from standardized physical examination teaching associates (SPETAs) or physician faculty.


In all, 144 first-year medical students were randomized to receive SPETA or physician-led physical examination instruction. Students participated in an OSCE assessment immediately following the end of the curriculum block.


SPETA-trained students performed equivalently to physician faculty trained students across all stations with a mean of 82.9% versus 81.2% (p = .226). Students taught by SPETAs performed significantly better on the abdominal OSCE with a mean score of 88.8%, while physician faculty taught students had a mean score of 85.4% (p = .03).


Findings from this study suggest that SPETAs can effectively teach foundational physical examination skills to medical students at a similar and sometimes better performance level as physician faculty.

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