Episode 19 - Bite-Size Research on Benefits of Retrieval with Medical Residents

Show Notes:

This is a bite-size research episode, where we briefly describe research findings on a specific topic. This week, Megan talks research findings showing that medical residents benefit from retrieval practice after didactic conferences.

In the last episode, Alyssa Smith, a third-year medical student, talked about the effective study strategies that she has been using throughout medical school. This episode continues with the medical education theme, discussing a paper by Doug Larsen, Andrew Butler, and Henry "Roddy" Roediger (1). This paper is interesting because it looks at the importance of retrieval practice for medical residents. Much of the research we discuss was done with college students or younger children. In this case, the research was conducted with individuals who are much further along in their professional career.

The Experiment:

Medical residents across all three years of the Pediatric Residency Program and all four years of the Emergency Medicine Program participated in a didactic conference. The conference was an hour-long interactive teaching session that was pretty typical of the types of sessions medical residents would attend to learn about broad topics. This particular conference covered the treatment of status epilepticus, and the diagnosis and treatment of myasthenia gravis. The residents may run into patients with either of these in emergency medicine.

The experiment was within-subjects, meaning all of the residents participated in both of the repeated retrieval and repeated study learning conditions. In the repeated retrieval condition, residents took practice tests with feedback after the conference. They repeated this two more times at 2-week intervals. In the repeated study condition, residents reviewed a study guide after the conference. They repeated this two more times at 2-week intervals.

They were randomly assigned to one of two groups:

  • Group 1: practiced repeated retrieval with status epilepticus, reviewed the study guide for myasthenia gravis
  • Group 2: repeatedly reviewed the study guide for status epilepticus, practiced retrieval with myasthenia gravis

The residents all took one big test over both topics 6 months after initial learning at the didactic conference.

The Results:

Residents who practiced retrieval remembered a lot more than those who reviewed the study guide! So, repeated retrieval spaced out over time led to greater levels of retention compared to repeated studying spaced out over time.

 Repeated retrieval is beneficial for residents, individuals who are much further along in their professions than some of the typical populations we study. The authors point out that residents are probably not repeatedly studying the information from these didactic conferences spaced out over time. So, the repeated study condition may actually be better than what the typical resident does. Yet, repeated retrieval leads to even better retention compared to repeated studying over time!

Tune in next month to learn about the importance of sleep and learning, and self care!

The Learning Scientists Podcast is funded by The Wellcome Trust.

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(1) Larsen, D. P., Butler, A. C., & Roediger, H. L. (2009). Repeated testing improves long-term retention relative to repeated study: a randomized controlled trial. Medical Education, 43, 1174-1181.

Episode 18 - Effective Studying in Medical School with Alyssa Smith