Original Research

Assessing medical students’ competence in calculating drug doses

Catherine Harries, Julia Botha
Pythagoras | Vol 34, No 2 | a186 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/pythagoras.v34i2.186 | © 2013 Catherine Harries, Julia Botha | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 August 2012 | Published: 10 September 2013

About the author(s)

Catherine Harries, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
Julia Botha, School of Health Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


Evidence suggests that healthcare professionals are not optimally able to calculate medicine doses and various strategies have been employed to improve these skills. In this study, the performance of third and fourth year medical students was assessed and the success of various educational interventions investigated. Students were given four types of dosing calculations typical of those required in an emergency setting. Full competence (at the 100% level) was defined as correctly answering all four categories of calculation at any one time. Three categories correct meant competence at the 75% level. Interventions comprised an assignment with a model answer for self-assessment in the third year and a small group tutorial in the fourth year. The small groups provided opportunities for peer-assisted learning. A subgroup of 23 students received individual tuition from the lecturer prior to the start of the fourth year. Amongst the 364 eligible students, full competence rose from 23% at the beginning of the third year to 66% by the end of the fourth year. More students succeeded during the fourth than the third year of study. Success of small group tuition was assessed in a sample of 200 students who had formal assessments both before and after the fourth year tuition. Competence at the 75% level improved by 10% in attendees and decreased by 3% in non-attendees, providing evidence of the value of students receiving assistance from more able same-language peers. Good results were achieved with one-on-one tuition where individualised assistance allowed even struggling students to improve.


Assessment;Training;Teaching; Dosage calculations; Mathematics of work


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