Just the Facts: Assessing How Trainees Gather Info

The Pediatric Milestones are now being used to guide the ongoing evaluation of trainees in all rotations. The most important Milestones vary from rotation to rotation. In the Pediatric Emergency Department (as in many others) making sure that you obtain the right history is key to assuring that you can develop an appropriate differential diagnosis and plan.

Levels of Experience and Learning

In general, early learners—for example interns—rely on basic pathophysiology and use analytic reasoning to generate mental maps to try to link their history and the exam. This history can be too extensive and convoluted due to the lack of a filter for which information is most critical. The limited experience of the novice learner may result in neglecting potentially important factors.

Intermediate residents can link signs and symptoms in the current patient to ones they have seen in the past. They filter information into diagnosis lists and develop illness scripts. These scripts are unique to each individual and are based on recognizing patterns of signs and symptoms relying on the experience gained from previous encounters to build “mental scaffolding representing characteristic features of specific illnesses.” An example would be Strep pharyngitis. Early residents may jump to a diagnosis of strep if they see a patient with fever, throat pain, and oropharnygeal exudates. With more experience they will have also seen patients with headache, abdominal pain, malaise, tender anterior cervical nodes and palatal petechiae.

Pastia’s Lines

Even more experienced learners may recognize Pastia’s lines and circumoral pallor and be able to differentiate strep from mono (and maybe even diphtheria). Advanced trainees use well developed illness scripts to help recognize variations in disease within patients. Their well defined “instance scripts” help recognize subtle differentiating features between similar conditions. Essentially, they are functioning autonomously at a very high level.

What This Means for You, the Supervisor

If you are a supervisor, in order to effectively assess resident history gathering we suggest that you refrain from assuming that the resident is only using pattern recognition if they jump to a diagnosis quickly.

  • Seek to understand their thought processes and you may find that they arrived at precisely the right diagnosis because of their advanced filtering skills. When you first work with a resident make sure that you clearly specify how much history you want to hear. More is generally better until you get a sense of their history taking skills.
  • As always, direct observation is a great way to assure that they are doing a good job. This may introduce a bit of the “Hawthorne effect” into matters – the resident may perform differently since you are in the room with them – so you can alternatively check yourself by taking a history form the family yourself.
In the next post, I will discuss using milestones to help learners develop their plans.
Brad Sobolewski MD MEd

Brad Sobolewski MD MEd

Assistant Professor of Clinical Pediatrics, Division of Emergency Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
Dr. Sobolewski also serves as the rotation director for the pediatric residents on the Emergency Department rotation. His interests are in medical education and technology, and he is the author of PEMBlog, a Pediatric Emergency Medicine educational website and is an active participant in the #FOAMed movement on Twitter @PEMTweets. You can learn more about Brad at his educator portfolio: http://www.bradsobolewski.com
Brad Sobolewski MD MEd
Brad Sobolewski MD MEd

Brad Sobolewski MD MEd

Dr. Sobolewski also serves as the rotation director for the pediatric residents on the Emergency Department rotation. His interests are in medical education and technology, and he is the author of PEMBlog, a Pediatric Emergency Medicine educational website and is an active participant in the #FOAMed movement on Twitter @PEMTweets. You can learn more about Brad at his educator portfolio: http://www.bradsobolewski.com