Loughborough University
Patterson et al (2017) Doctors in Difficulty.pdf (400.49 kB)

A preliminary investigation to explore the cognitive resources of physicians experiencing difficulty in training

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posted on 2017-05-31, 13:12 authored by Fiona Patterson, Fran Cousans, Iain CoyneIain Coyne, Jo Jones, Sheona Macleod, Lara Zibarras
Background: Treating patients is complex, and research shows that there are differences in cognitive resources between physicians who experience difficulties, and those who do not. It is possible that differences in some cognitive resources could explain the difficulties faced by some physicians. In this study, we explore differences in cognitive resources between different groups of physicians (that is, between native (UK) physicians and International Medical Graduates (IMG); those who continue with training versus those who were subsequently removed from the training programme); and also between physicians experiencing difficulties compared with the general population. Methods: A secondary evaluation was conducted on an anonymised dataset provided by the East Midlands Professional Support Unit (PSU). One hundred and twenty one postgraduate trainee physicians took part in an Educational Psychology assessment through PSU. Referrals to the PSU were mainly on the basis of problems with exam progression and difficulties in communication skills, organisation and confidence. Cognitive resources were assessed using the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-IV). Physicians were categorised into three PSU outcomes: ‘Continued in training’, ‘Removed from training’ and ‘Active’ (currently accessing the PSU). Results: Using a one-sample Z test, we compared the referred physician sample to a UK general population sample on the WAIS-IV and found the referred sample significantly higher in Verbal Comprehension (VCI; z = 8.78) and significantly lower in Working Memory (WMI; z = −4.59). In addition, the native sample were significantly higher in Verbal Comprehension than the UK general population sample (VCI; native physicians: z = 9.95, p < .001, d = 1.25), whilst there was a lesser effect for the difference between the IMG sample and the UK general population (z = 2.13, p = .03, d = 0.29). Findings also showed a significant difference in VCI scores between those physicians who were ‘Removed from training’ and those who ‘Continued in training’. Conclusions: Our results suggest it is important to understand the cognitive resources of physicians to provide a more focussed explanation of those who experience difficulties in training. This will help to implement more targeted interventions to help physicians develop compensatory strategies.


This work was sponsored by HEE East Midlands.



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PATTERSON, F. ... et al, 2017. A preliminary investigation to explore the cognitive resources of physicians experiencing difficulty in training. BMC Medical Education, 17 (87), doi: 10.1186/s12909-017-0918-z


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