At a recent meeting of fellow surgeons in my department, an interesting difference of opinion arose.  It relates to our trainees’ knowledge of statistics.  Unfortunately, the meeting did not allow any time to properly discuss the topic.

Some background to illuminate your way.  Registration as a medical specialist in South Africa is regulated by the Health Professions Council.  In recent years, the Council has introduced the completion of a mandatory research project, culminating in a dissertation.  This accompanies the usual prescribed formal examinations.

Universities in the country manage the research projects by way of a Master’s degree, for which all trainees must register.

The difference of opinion was simple.  From the opposite corner of the ring, it was suggested that our trainees require no knowledge of statistical analysis and should hand in their data to a statistician and merely use the results in their reports.

I do not share this opinion and feel strongly that all medical professionals should have an understanding of the topic.  While not all doctors and specialists are interested in research, I do believe that an understanding of statistics empowers the individual when evaluating published research.  This in turns helps to inform and change their practice.  As a surgeon, I know it does mine.  With no formal program for statistical teaching in our department, I looked towards open education.

To this end, I was a leading proponent in getting the University of Cape Town to sign up with the Coursera and FutureLearn massive open online course platforms.  The creation of twelve courses were funded by the Vice Chancellor and my course on Understanding Medical Research was the first to launch on Coursera.  It has been a phenomenal experience and the feedback has been tremendous.

Unfortunately, austerity measures have curtailed these efforts.  I funded my second course on Coursera through an external loan.  It is on the use of Julia (mathematical biology using scientific computing) and was created in collaboration with the Applied Mathematics Department.  The honors section of the course is on data management and statistical analysis.

To further my resolve in teaching medical statistics, I have taken to the Udemy platform with a course on medical statistics using Mathematica.  In the last few days I have also launched a course on the use of SPSS in healthcare and life science statistics.  Udemy is an interesting platform and I would encourage its use.

Link to the course: SPSS for healthcare and life science statistics

SPSS for medical statistics

Course on SPSS for medical statistics

My opinion, though, is clear.  Learning to analyze data, is an empowering skill for everyone in healthcare.

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