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The 1997 edition of the Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS) course emphasized interactivity as its major change. The impact of this change is assessed in this study.We compared two matched groups of 16 interns completing either the old (group I) or new (group II) ATLS course. Cognitive skills (40 standard ATLS questions plus 10 additional questions on airway and shock) and clinical trauma management skills (four trauma objective structured clinical examinations [OSCEs] on simulated trauma patients) were tested. OSCE station scores (standardized to a maximum of 20), priority scores (graded 1-7), organized approach global passing grades (graded 1-5), and initial assessment test station scores (graded 1-5) were compared.Using ATLS criteria, three interns failed in each group. Post-ATLS examination question scores were similar (84.5 +/- 6.9 for group I, 85.9 +/- 7.1 for group II); scores for the airway and shock questions were higher but not different between the two groups. The four OSCE station mean scores varied between 13.9 +/- 2.0 and 15.4 +/- 2.1 for group I and were higher (p < 0.05) for group II (17.9 +/- 1.6 to 19.1 +/- 1.0). Priority scores were similar (group I, 6.3 +/- 1.1; group II, 6.4 +/- 1.2), but approach scores (3.9 +/- 0.1 for group I and 4.9 +/- 0.8 for group II) were lower in group I, as were the initial assessment test scores (2.9 +/- 0.2 for group I and 4.9 +/- 0.8 for group II). There were 8 honors grades in group I and 40 (p < 0.05) in group II. Interactive teaching, adult education principles, opportunities for discussion, provision of feedback, and stimulation of self-learning were rated more highly in the new course.Using standard ATLS pass criteria, performance after the new and old ATLS courses was similar. Superior performances were measured using OSCE methodology for clinical trauma management skills after the new compared with the old ATLS course in this population of interns.