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Adv Health Sci Educ Theory Pract. 2012 Oct;17(4):547-55. doi: 10.1007/s10459-011-9331-2. Epub 2011 Oct 15.

Expanding the basic science debate: the role of physics knowledge in interpreting clinical findings.

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Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, The University of Western Ontario, Room 115, Health Sciences Addition, London, ON N6A 5C1, Canada.


Current research suggests a role for biomedical knowledge in learning and retaining concepts related to medical diagnosis. However, learning may be influenced by other, non-biomedical knowledge. We explored this idea using an experimental design and examined the effects of causal knowledge on the learning, retention, and interpretation of medical information. Participants studied a handout about several respiratory disorders and how to interpret respiratory exam findings. The control group received the information in standard "textbook" format and the experimental group was presented with the same information as well as a causal explanation about how sound travels through lungs in both the normal and disease states. Comprehension and memory of the information was evaluated with a multiple-choice exam. Several questions that were not related to the causal knowledge served as control items. Questions related to the interpretation of physical exam findings served as the critical test items. The experimental group outperformed the control group on the critical test items, and our study shows that a causal explanation can improve a student's memory for interpreting clinical details. We suggest an expansion of which basic sciences are considered fundamental to medical education.

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