Critical thinking skills are linked to academic success among medical residents, say researchers.

Critical thinking, as defined by the researchers, is the skill of collecting information, accurately assessing information, and using that information to reach a considered conclusion. There are plenty of studies showing the benefit of critical thinking skills in a number of professions, especially health care. In one study examining the trends of developing critical thinking skills among medical students, researchers found that “the best physicians think critically and problem solve through appropriate gathering and accurate interpretation of information.

In another study, those training for a health care career who scored high on critical thinking tests had strong academic clinical decision-making and academic success compared to those who did not posses the same level of critical thinking.

Unfortunately, however, teaching critical thinking skills to health care professionals in training has been no easy feat. “In some studies critical thinking is unchanged by training programs, while in other studies critical thinking improves with education,” the authors explained. For the study, researchers looked at the critical thinking skills of family medicine residents. To do this, the researchers analyzed four different sets of data, including a critical thinking test (known as the California Critical Thinking Skills Test or CCTST), a family medicine certification exam, MCAT scores, and each resident’s Canadian Residency Matching Service (CaRMS) file which contained information about rotation evaluations, demographic data, and data from residency applications.

The results confirmed that critical thinking skills are associated with better performance and several areas of academic success in residency. And while many residency programs use a variety of criteria and tools to choose students, “the results of this study suggest that [critical thinking test] may be useful as a tool for improving resident selection.”

“The findings from this study indicate that high scores on the CCTST predict success on family medicine certification examinations, to a greater degree that CaRMS file review scores or CaRMS interview scores,” the authors wrote. “These findings suggest that the CCTST could be considered as a potentially valuable tool in resident selection.”