Objectives Learning to perform physical examination of the abdomen is a challenge for medical students. Medical educators need to find engaging, effective tools to help students acquire competence and confidence in abdominal examination techniques. This study evaluates the added value of ultrasound training when Year 1 medical students learn abdominal examination.
Methods The study used a randomised trial with a wait-list control condition. Year 1 medical students were randomised into 2 groups: those who were given immediate ultrasound training, and those for whom ultrasound training was delayed while they received standard instruction on abdominal examination. Standardised patients (SPs) used a clinical skills assessment (CSA) checklist to assess student abdominal examination competence on 2 occasions − CSA-1 and CSA-2 − separated by 8 weeks. Students also estimated SP liver size for comparison with gold-standard ultrasound measurements. Students completed skills confidence surveys.
Results Proficiency in abdominal examination technique acquired from traditional instruction boosted with ultrasound training showed no advantage at CSA-1. However, at CSA-2 the delayed ultrasound training group showed significant improvement. Students uniformly underestimated SP liver sizes and the estimates were not affected by ultrasound training. Student confidence in both groups improved from baseline to CSA-1 and CSA-2.
Conclusions Ultrasound training as an adjunct to traditional means of teaching abdominal examination improves students' physical examination technique after students have acquired skills with basic examination manoeuvres.