What happens to misunderstandings of biomedical concepts across a medical curriculum?

Elmi Badenhorst*, Silvia Mamede, Amaal Abrahams, Kishor Bugarith, Francois Cilliers, Chivaugn Gordon, Geney Gunston, Virginia Zweigenthal, Henk G Schmidt

*Corresponding author for this work

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Research on the extent and nature of commonly misunderstood fundamental biomedical concepts across a medical curriculum is scarce. These misunderstandings could point toward robust misconceptions. We examined first whether common misunderstandings persist throughout a medical curriculum, followed by a fine-grained analysis to identify their nature. We designed and administered a 2-tier test to 987 medical students across our curriculum, with 8 questions covering the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, cell division, and homeostatic processes. Proportions of incorrect responses were computed. Four questions where misunderstandings persisted were further qualitatively analyzed. A one-way ANOVA showed the proportion of incorrect responses decreased significantly by students' academic year [F(6, 986) = 96.05, P < 0.001]. While novices and end-of -first-year students showed similar proportion of incorrect responses (P > 0.05), incorrect responses decreased significantly between first years and second years (P < 0.001). Thereafter, the proportion of incorrect responses remained stable from second to final year (P > 0.05), with ∼35% of incorrect responses. Five questions showed no decrease of incorrect responses between second and final years, with two questions where final year students performed marginally better than novices. A Chi-square analysis, with Bonferroni post hoc test, showed certain misunderstandings appeared frequently across the curriculum. The qualitative analysis of the open-ended questions yielded 15 categories of common misunderstandings of fundamental biomedical concepts in all years of training. If educators become aware of commonly misunderstood biomedical concepts, preventative measures could be taken to prevent robust misconceptions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)526-537
Number of pages12
JournalAdvances in Physiology Education
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021

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Copyright © 2021 the American Physiological Society


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