Reasonable long-term retention of basic science knowledge in doctors after graduation

January 01, 0001

Reasonable long-term retention of basic science knowledge in doctors after graduation

Despite frequent complaints that biomedical knowledge is quickly forgotten after it has been learned, few investigations of actual long-term retention of basic science knowledge have been conducted in the medical domain. Using a cross-sectional study design, medical students and doctors in the Netherlands were tested for retention of basic science knowledge. The aim of the researchers was to illuminate the long-term retention of basic science knowledge, particularly of unrehearsed knowledge.

The popular notion that most of basic science knowledge is forgotten shortly after graduation is not supported by the findings. With respect to the full test scores, which reflect a composite of unrehearsed and rehearsed knowledge, performance decreased from approximately 40% correct answers for students still in medical school, to 25-30% correct answers for doctors after many years of practice. When rehearsal during the retention interval is controlled for, it appears that little knowledge is lost for 1.5-2 years after it was last used; from then on, retention is best described by a negatively accelerated (logarithmic) forgetting curve. After more than  25 years, retention levels were in the range of 15-20%.

The researchers concluded: "Conclusions about the forgetting of unrehearsed knowledge in this study are in line with findings reported in other domains …… except that in our findings the ‘downward’ part appears to start later than in most other studies."

Things keep coming back to me from over 30 years ago and I respect the wonderful teaching that I had.

For the full abstract, click here.

Medical Education 45(4):422-430, April 2011
© Blackwell Publishing Ltd 2011
Very long-term retention of basic science knowledge in doctors after graduation. Eugène J F M Custers, Olle T J ten Cate.

Category: PT. Professional Training. Keywords: retention, basic science, knowledge, doctor, graduation, cross-sectional study, journal watch.
Synopsis edited by Dr Stephen Wilkinson, Melbourne, Australia. Posted on Global Family Doctor 6 May 2011

Pearls are an independent product of the Cochrane primary care group and are meant for educational use and not to guide clinical care.