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BMC Med Educ. 2018 Mar 27;18(1):46. doi: 10.1186/s12909-018-1157-7.

Early musculoskeletal classroom education confers little advantage to medical student knowledge and competency in the absence of clinical experiences: a retrospective comparison study.

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Department of Interventional and Diagnostic Radiology, University of Washington Medical Center, Health Sciences Building, RR210, 1959 NE Pacific Street, Box 357115, Seattle, WA, 98195-7115, USA.
Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, University of Arizona, 1609 N. Warren Ave, Suite 110, Tucson, AZ, 85719, USA.
Department of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle Children's Hospital, PO Box 5371, 4800 Sand Point Way NE, Seattle, WA, 98145-5005, USA.



Deficiencies in medical student knowledge in musculoskeletal medicine have been well documented. To address these deficiencies, numerous curricular changes at our institution were instituted. The objective of this study was to determine whether medical students in their preclinical years benefit from early exposure to musculoskeletal medicine when compared to students exposed to musculoskeletal medicine just prior to completion of their preclinical curriculum.


United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) Step 1 and 2 scores were compared for periods of time before and after institution of the new curriculum. Scores on the previously validated 24-question short answer survey from Freedman and Bernstein were also compared over these same periods of time between these two groups and to established standards for competency, using a student's two-tailed unpaired t-test for significance. Entering Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores were used to compare baseline preparation of students.


Overall USMLE scores as well as scores on the USMLE subtest on Musculoskeletal, Skin and Connective Tissue Disease showed no improvement when scores were compared between the two groups of students. There was a statistically significant lower performance on the Freedman and Bernstein knowledge assessment exam for students in the new pre-clinical curriculum as compared to those introduced under the old model, considering both musculoskeletal knowledge (pā€‰<ā€‰0.001) and proficiency (pā€‰<ā€‰0.01), though the response rate on the recent survey was low (112/986 or 11%). Spine remained the least understood sub-topic, while a dedicated course in rheumatology likely contributed to increased student knowledge in that area. Additional exposure to musculoskeletal topics during the clinical years increased student knowledge. There was no difference between groups when comparing entering MCAT scores.


Classroom curricular changes, including moving the introductory musculoskeletal course to the first year, intended to optimize musculoskeletal medicine education in the pre-clinical years of medical school did not appear to improve student musculoskeletal knowledge at any year of training. Further efforts to improve the education of medical students in musculoskeletal medicine should be directed towards providing more clinical experiences with patients having musculoskeletal concerns. This was a retrospective comparative study, level III evidence.


Medical education; Musculoskeletal education; Musculoskeletal medicine

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