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Fam Med. 1997 May;29(5):315-7.

Pap smear adequacy: the role of clinician experience.

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Department of Family Practice, Reading Hospital and Medical Center, Penn., USA.



The Papanicolaou (Pap) smear is a widely accepted tool for the detection and prevention of cervical cancer. Under the Bethesda Scoring System, the key internal control for adequacy of the smear is the presence of endocervical cells. Over the past several decades, much effort has been undertaken to maximize the adequacy of this acquisition. The present study determined if Pap smear sample adequacy is related to clinician experience.


This study includes a retrospective analysis of 1,356 Pap smears acquired between January 1992 and January 1995. The procedures were performed by family practice residents and faculty physicians. Cervical smears were obtained with a combination of a cytobrush and an Ayre spatula and were placed on two slides. Adequacy was subsequently determined by a cytotechnologist. Chi-square analysis was used to determine if the adequacy rates for faculty and for PGY-1, PGY-2, and PGY-3 residents were significantly different.


The adequacy rates for PGY-1, PGY-2, PGY-3 residents and faculty physicians were 80%, 89%, 89%, and 93%, respectively. The adequacy rates for the first-year residents were significantly different from that of all other studied groups.


This study demonstrates the relationship between clinician experience and the ability to perform an adequate Pap smear. Considering the cost and potential medical risk of an inadequate Pap smear, family practice residency programs should increase the degree of PGY-1 education and experience in performing Pap smears.

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