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Many Medical Residents Don’t Have Skills To Interpret Research Statistics


New Haven, Conn. — A study by researchers at Yale School of Medicine shows that 75 percent of physicians in training surveyed do not understand the statistics they encounter in the medical literature, calling into question their ability to interpret important clinical research data.

The study is published in the September 5 issue of JAMA’s theme issue on medical education. The researchers surveyed 277 internal medicine residents at 11 residency programs to evaluate their understanding of biostatistics and their interpretation of clinical research results published in the medical literature.

The residents scored an average of 41 percent correct on the test. Senior residents performed worse than junior residents, potentially reflecting loss of knowledge over time and/or lack of reinforcement.

“Most residents in this study lack the knowledge in biostatistics needed to interpret many of the results in published clinical research,” said corresponding author Donna M. Windish, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine. “Residency programs should include more effective biostatistics training in their curricula to successfully prepare residents for this important life-long learning skill.”

“If physicians cannot detect appropriate statistical analyses and accurately understand their results, the risk of incorrect interpretation may lead to erroneous applications of clinical research,” added Windish.

The study showed that residents who scored higher had additional advanced degrees, such as a Master of Public Health or Ph.D.; prior biostatistics training; or were enrolled in a university-based training program.

Of the residents surveyed, 95 percent agreed or strongly agreed that it is necessary to know something about statistics in order to be an intelligent reader of the literature, and 77 percent expressed an interest in learning more about statistics.

Other authors on the study included Stephen J. Huot, M.D. and Michael L. Green, M.D.

Citation: JAMA, Vol. 298, No. 9 1010-1022 (September 5, 2007)


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