Assessing Clinical Faculty Understanding of Statistical Terms Used to Measure Treatment Effects and Their Application to Teaching

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Abstract

Introduction:

Understanding of statistical terms used to measure treatment effect is important for evidence-informed medical teaching and practice. We explored knowledge of these terms among clinical faculty who instruct and mentor a continuum of medical learners to inform medical faculty learning needs.

Methods:

This was a mixed methods study that used a questionnaire to measure a health professional's understanding of measures of treatment effect and a focus group to explore perspectives on learning, applying, and teaching these terms. We analyzed questionnaire data using descriptive statistics and focus group data using thematic analysis.

Results:

We analyzed responses from clinical faculty who were physicians and completed all sections of the questionnaire (n = 137). Overall, approximately 55% were highly confident in their understanding of statistical terms; self-reported understanding was highest for number needed to treat (77%). Only 26% of respondents correctly responded to all comprehension questions; however, 80% correctly responded to at least one of these questions. There was a significant association among self-reported understanding and ability to correctly calculate terms. A focus group with clinical/medical faculty (n = 4) revealed themes of mentorship, support and resources, and beliefs about the value of statistical literacy.

Discussion:

We found that half of clinical faculty members are highly confident in their understanding of relative and absolute terms. Despite the limitations of self-assessment data, our study provides some evidence that self-assessment can be reliable. Recognizing that faculty development is not mandatory for clinical faculty in many centers, and the notion that faculty may benefit from mentorship in critical appraisal topics, it may be appropriate to first engage and support influential clinical faculty rather than using a broad strategy to achieve universal statistical literacy. Second, senior leadership in medical education should support continuous learning by providing paid, protected time for faculty to incorporate evidence in their teaching.

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