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Letters to the Editor

Teaching Physician Numeracy

Irani, Jihad, MD, MPH

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doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e318212eb3f
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To the Editor:

Physician numeracy, as pointed out by Rao and Kanter,1 is an essential skill in an era governed by numbers. The course model adopted by those authors is an evolution from traditional epidemiology and biostatistics courses. Our medical school in Lebanon tried to follow Dr. Rao's method of teaching physician numeracy (I was exposed to Dr. Rao's method during my fellowship in Pittsburgh). In this letter, I share our experience, in case it could be helpful to readers.

We found that the model relies tremendously on the success of small-group teaching. Therefore, a class of 60 to 70 students requires a minimum of six groups, which translates into six faculty members who are literate in physician numeracy. Unfortunately, in our school, we had only two faculty members available to teach the several small groups required. These individuals had to sit daily with the different groups, repeating themselves five times a week in order to cover the whole class, which was still of moderate size. Students praised the newer version of this course, while the faculty members risked getting burned-out.

Our experience convinced me that having adequate human resources to teach physician numeracy is the biggest challenge. The number of faculty available in one school might not be available in another one. Recruiting new faculty is often essential. However, once that is done, what is the best way to ensure that they are qualified to teach physician numeracy? This is a second challenge.

Finally, it would be of interest to use some evidence-based medicine techniques to evaluate whether, in fact, the small-group method of teaching physician numeracy actually works better than the old methods. And there probably reside more challenges.

Jihad Irani, MD, MPH

Assistant professor of family medicine, University of Balamand Faculty of Medicine and Medical Sciences, Beirut, Lebanon; [email protected].


1 Rao G, Kanter SL. Physician numeracy as the basis for an evidence-based medicine curriculum. Acad Med. 2010;85:1794–1799.
© 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges