• education, medical, undergraduate/*standards;
  • curriculum;
  • anatomy/*education/standards;
  • Northern Ireland;
  • educational measurement

Background  In recent years, following the publication of Tomorrow's Doctors, the undergraduate medical curriculum in most UK medical schools has undergone major revision. This has resulted in a significant reduction in the time allocated to the teaching of the basic medical sciences, including anatomy. However, it is not clear what impact these changes have had on medical students' knowledge of surface anatomy.

Aim  This study aimed to assess the impact of these curricular changes on medical students' knowledge of surface anatomy.

Setting  Medical student intakes for 1995–98 at the Queen's University of Belfast, UK.

Methods  The students were invited to complete a simple examination paper testing their knowledge of surface anatomy. Results from the student intake of 1995, which undertook a traditional, ‘old’ curriculum, were compared with those from the student intakes of 1996−98, which undertook a new, ‘systems-based’ curriculum. To enhance linear response and enable the use of linear models for analysis, all data were adjusted using probit transformations of the proportion (percentage) of correct answers for each item and each year group.

Results  The student intake of 1995 (old curriculum) were more likely to score higher than the students who undertook the new, systems-based curriculum.

Conclusion  The introduction of the new, systems-based course has had a negative impact on medical students' knowledge of surface anatomy.