The efficacy of intensive biopsychosocial teaching programs for residents: a review of the literature and guidelines for teaching

R C Smith, A A Marshall, S A Cohen-Cole
Journal of General Internal Medicine 1994, 9 (7): 390-6

OBJECTIVE: To review research evaluations of intensive biopsychosocial training programs for nonpsychiatry residents, and determine whether this research showed sufficient rigor and consistent beneficial impact to allow initial research-based teaching guidelines.

DATA SOURCES: An English-language literature search used MEDLINE (1966-93), Psychological Abstracts (1967-93), and Educational Resource Information Clearinghouse (1966-93) as well as bibliographic reviews from prominent peer-reviewed articles and consultation with an expert.

STUDY SELECTION: From among several hundred articles about biopsychosocial training, only 12 studies met the selection criteria: at least 100 contact hours of training for nonpsychiatry residents and an evaluation of efficacy.

DATA EXTRACTION: The three authors independently assessed these 12 studies and made a consensus decision based on explicit criteria. Successful and unsuccessful programs were distinguished from among those classified as quasi-experimental or experimental to identify programs of sufficient rigor to meet the study objective; success was defined as learning beyond knowledge and residents' acceptance of teaching.

DATA SYNTHESIS: Four successful quasi-experimental or experimental programs showed the following uniquely beneficial features: 1) protected time for residents; 2) teaching that was required, structured, multidimensional, and balanced between learner-centered and teacher-centered approaches; 3) teaching methods that used normal as well as psychosocially disturbed patients, nonpsychiatrist teachers, and special teaching techniques; and 4) inclusion in the curriculum of interviewing, interpersonal skills, doctor-patient relationship, and patient education. Two unsuccessful quasi-experimental or experimental programs were unidimensional and unstructured, and used predominant or isolated teacher-centered approaches. Features found in both successful and unsuccessful programs were experiential teaching, psychiatrist and other mental health professional teachers, use of disturbed patients, training to manage patients' psychosocial problems, teaching directed toward knowledge acquisition, teaching about treatment, and university affiliation.

CONCLUSIONS: Four rigorously studied, successful programs showed a common pattern of intensive biopsychosocial teaching that produced, in aggregate, improvement in residents' knowledge, attitudes, skills, and self-awareness. Although there is need for more definitive research, these data are sufficiently compelling and consistent to provide initial, research-based teaching guidelines.

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