Catering to millennial learners: assessing and improving fine-needle aspiration performance

Phillip G Rowse, Raaj K Ruparel, Yazan N AlJamal, Jad M Abdelsattar, Stephanie F Heller, David R Farley
Journal of Surgical Education 2014, 71 (6): e53-8

OBJECTIVES: Fine-needle aspiration (FNA) of a palpable cervical lymph node is a straightforward procedure that should be safely performed by educated general surgery (GS) trainees. Retention of technical skill is suspect, unless sequential learning experiences are provided. However, voluntary learning experiences are no guarantee that trainees will actually use the resource.

DESIGN: A 3-minute objective structured assessment of technical skill-type station was created to assess GS trainee performance using FNA. Objective criteria were developed and a checklist was generated (perfect score = 24). Following abysmal performance of 11 postgraduate year (PGY)-4 trainees on the FNA station of our semiannual surgical skills assessment ("X-Games"), we provided all GS residents with electronic access to a 90-second YouTube video clip demonstrating proper FNA technique. PGY-2 (n = 11) and PGY-3 (n = 10) residents subsequently were tested on FNA technique 5 and 12 days later, respectively.

RESULTS: All 32 trainees completed the station in less than 3 minutes. Overall scores ranged from 4 to 24 (mean = 14.9). PGY-4 residents assessed before the creation of the video clip scored lowest (range: 4-18, mean = 11.4). PGY-3 residents (range: 10-22, mean = 17.8) and PGY-2 residents (range: 10-24, mean = 15.8) subsequently scored higher (p < 0.05). Ten residents admitted watching the 90-second FNA video clip and scored higher (mean = 21.7) than the 11 residents that admitted they did not watch the clip (mean = 13.1, p < 0.001). Of the 11 trainees who did not watch the video, 6 claimed they did not have time, and 5 felt it would not be useful to them.

CONCLUSIONS: Overall performance of FNA was poor in 32 midlevel GS residents. However, a 90-second video clip demonstrating proper FNA technique viewed less than 2 weeks before the examination significantly elevated scores. Half of trainees given the chance to learn online did not take the opportunity to view the video clip. Although preemptive learning is effective, future efforts should attempt to improve self-directed learning habits of trainees and evaluate actual long-term skill retention.

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