NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Most medical residents have a poor understanding of biostatistics and how to interpret study results, according to a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association for September 5th

"Residency programs should include more effective biostatistics training in their curricula to successfully prepare residents for this important lifelong learning skill," Dr. Donna M. Windish and colleagues, from the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut, conclude.

"This was the first multi-program study assessing objective resident knowledge in this area. We also focused our survey on current topics present in the medical literature," Dr. Windish told Reuters Health.

The findings are based on the results of a multiple-choice knowledge test completed by 367 internal medicine residents in 11 residency programs.

On average, the residents answered just 41.4% of the questions correctly compared with 71.5% for fellows and faculty with research training (p < 0.001).

Residents with additional advanced degrees scored higher than those with only a medical degree (p < 0.001). Other predictors of higher test scores included prior biostatistics training, enrollment in a university-based training program, and male gender.

In terms of individual questions, most residents (81.6%) were able to correctly interpret a relative risk. By contrast, only 37.4% of residents could interpret an adjusted odds ratio from a multivariate regression analysis and just 10.5% of residents could ascertain the results of a Kaplan-Meier analysis.

While 75% of residents said that they did not understand all of the statistics present in journal articles, nearly all believed that understanding these concepts is important to interpreting the literature.

"Reading the medical literature and understanding the findings is central to all practicing physicians," Dr. Windish emphasized. "The low scores indicate a need to enhance training in biostatistics in medical school, residency and perhaps into continuing medical education. Educators should re-evaluate how this information is taught and reinforced in order to adequately prepare trainees for lifelong learning."