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Study Suggests Spaced Education Improves Teaching by Surgical Residents


In two recent studies, medical students believed surgical residents were their primary source of education. While the importance of residents in teaching students is recognized, residents and students cite lack of resident time, competing priorities, and lack of formal teaching instruction as challenges to effective resident teaching. This randomized trial investigated whether feedback given by surgery residents to students could improve using a spaced-education program delivering succinct weekly e-mails. The 'spacing effect' refers to the psychological principle that training or educational material which is spaced over time and repeated will result in greater knowledge acquisition and retention of content than when material is presented at a single time. In this study, 55 general surgery residents were randomized to receive either weekly spaced education e-mails containing teaching bullets about giving formative feedback or no e-mails. Participating medical students (n = 40, academic year 2005-2006) then rated the frequency and quality of feedback received from their residents during their clerkships.

Findings show that succinct e-mails using spaced education methods are an effective tool to significantly improve both the frequency and quality of feedback surgical residents give medical students. Students reported that 45% of residents who received the spaced education e-mails gave frequent feedback, compared to 31% of residents who did not receive the e-mails. Students also reported that resident feedback was "useful and helpful" in their learning in 92% of their evaluations of residents who received the spaced education e-mails, compared to 82% of evaluations of residents who did not receive the e-mails. Authors suggest that spaced-education techniques may help educate busy residents, for whom service and education responsibilities are often at odds with effective teaching strategies.

PubMed Logo Matzie K, Kerfoot B, Hafler J, and Breen E. Spaced education improves the feedback that surgical residents give to medical students: A randomized trial. American Journal of Surgery February 2009;197(2):252-257.

Dr. Kerfoot is part of the VA Boston Healthcare System.

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HSR&D requires notification by HSR&D-funded investigators about all articles accepted for publication. These journal articles are reviewed by HSR&D and publication briefs or summaries are written for a select number of articles that are then forwarded to VHA Central Office leadership to keep them informed about important findings or information. Articles to be summarized are selected by HSR&D based on timeliness of the findings, interest of leadership, or potential impact on the organization. Publication briefs are written for only a small number of HSR&D published articles. Visit the HSR&D citations database for a complete listing of HSR&D articles and presentations.