Mal-positioned nasogastric feeding tubes: are medical students safe to identify them?

Cindy Chew, Patrick J. O’Dwyer, David Young, Carina Banziger, Sarah Hope, Sana Rodolfo, Anu E. Obaro

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OBJECTIVES: Nasogastric tube (NGT) placement is listed against Clinical Imaging in the upcoming Medical Licensing Assessment-compulsory for every graduating UK medical student from 2025. This study aims to establish the ability of medical students to correctly identify the position of an NGT on Chest X-ray (CXR) and to evaluate a learning tool to improve student outcome in this area. METHODS: Fourth-year (MB4) and fifth-year (MB5) medical students were invited to view 20 CXRs with 14 correctly sited and 6 mal-positioned NGT. MB5 students (Intervention) were exposed to an online interactive learning tool, with MB4 students kept as control. One week later, both groups of students were invited to view 20 more CXRs for NGT placement. RESULTS: Only 12 (4.8%) of 249 MB5 students and 5 (3.1%) of 161 MB4 students correctly identified all the NGTs on CXRs. The number of students misidentifying 1 or more mal-positioned NGT as "safe to feed" was 129 (51.8%) for MB5 and 76 (47.2%) for MB4 students. This improved significantly (P < .001) following exposure to the learning tool with 58% scoring all CXRs correctly, while 28% scored 1 or more mal-positioned NGT incorrectly. Students struggled to determine if the NGT tip had adequately passed into the stomach. However, they failed to identify an NG tube in the lung ("never event") in just one out of 1,108 opportunities. CONCLUSION: Medical students' ability to determine if the NGT was in the stomach remains suboptimal despite exposure to over 60 CXRs. Feeding NGT should be formally reported before use. ADVANCES IN KNOWLEDGE: This is the first attempt at quantifying graduating medical students', and by inference junior doctors', competence in safely identifying misplaced nasogastric feeding tubes. An online, experiential learning resource significantly improved their ability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)640-645
Number of pages6
JournalBritish Journal of Radiology
Issue number1155
Early online date13 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2024


  • nasogastric tube
  • medical students
  • safety


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