Critical appraisal

Authors: Masha Singh 

Publication date:  16 Jun 2012

Critical Appraisal is a one day course run by the Centre for Applied Medical Statistics, University of Cambridge. This course is designed to foster a healthy scepticism of published medical literature and teach structured techniques to allow candidates to critically appraise most articles.

Medical professionals are expected to stay up to date with the latest advances in their specialty, and this involves evaluation of published research. Formal courses on critically appraising articles are rare but would be of benefit to nearly all doctors in their future careers.

Who’s it for?

This course would be useful to anyone — from foundation doctors upwards —who wants to develop their skills in critically appraising published articles. It caters for people from many backgrounds, with most candidates being doctors in full time research.

Why did you do it?

As we progress in our training, we begin to review published research articles to keep up to date with the latest developments in our field. Evidence based medicine is based entirely on research and our ability to apply it to our own patients. With such a large amount of research published each year, we need to be able sift through it and determine that which has value. I did this course to develop my skills in critically reviewing articles, so that I could decide whether the results were accurate and applicable to my practice. The course would also be useful to anyone who attends or presents at journal club meetings, where the ability to critique a paper can determine whether it has value or not.

How is it structured?

It is a one day course taught by a single instructor, based at the Centre for Applied Medical Statistics, University of Cambridge, next to Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

Basic methods in critical appraisal of published articles are taught by demonstrating commonly made errors in study design and methodology and in statistical analyses.

Candidates are divided into small groups and asked to review a published article. Then, by working their way through checklists, they gain the ability to critique the article and point out any common errors.

It is a well structured course and teaches candidates to appraise different types of articles. It develops a healthy scepticism of published research and highlights common statistical errors.

How are candidates assessed?

The course has no formal examination or evaluation.

How much does it cost?

The cost varies, depending on the candidate: NHS staff pay £175; external candidates £200; and Cambridge University staff £150.

Was it worth it?

I found the course invaluable. Being able to look critically at articles is a fundamental skill for those wishing to do research, but it is also useful for anyone who reads journals regularly or presents at journal club meetings. Also, being aware of common errors in research will help when writing up your own articles and ensure agreater likelihood of being accepted for publication.

Further information

Contact Marianne Blanc, administrator ( cams@medschl.cam.ac.uk; tel 01223 330335), or go to [Link] .

Competing interests: None declared.

Masha Singh plastic surgery trainee Bradford Royal Infirmary, West Yorkshire, UK


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