The Framing Effect, Donald Trump and the meaning of truly Informed Consent
Imagine you’re responsible for planning a public health response to a virulent disease that is expected to kill 600 people. You have to choose between two management programs:
- If Program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved.
- If Program B is adopted, there is a one-third probability that all 600 people will be saved, and a two-thirds probability that no one will be saved.
Once you’ve made your choice, consider the same scenario, but with the following options:
- If Program C is adopted, 400 people will die.
- If Program D is adopted, there is a one-third probability that nobody will die, and a two-thirds probability that 600 people will die.
This test was developed by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman and was published in Science in 1981. It’s also described in Kahneman’s remarkable 2011 book Thinking: Fast and Slow. Kahneman won the 2002 Nobel Prize for economics, Tversky having passed away in 1996 (apparently Nobel Prizes are never awarded posthumously).
It’s a test of willingness to accept risks, and part of their larger body of work on decision making behaviour. The pairs of options each require the participant to choose between accepting a sure thing (options A and C), or taking a risk (options B and D). Options A and C are factually identical (200 people live and 400 die in each), but differ in that they are expressed in either positive (A) or negative (C) terms. If our risk taking behaviour is consistent, choices should be the same for the two pairs. However, given the options outlined above, a significant majority of respondents (72%) chose Program A over B for the first selection, but then rejected the sure thing, favouring Program D (78%) over C in the second selection.
The differences relate to how the options are expressed, or “framed”. In the first pair, the choices are designed to focus on saving people. In the second, the focus is on how many people will die. When the intention is to save lives, it appears we are risk averse. When the situation is seen to be bleak and inevitably fatal, we are much more willing to engage risk. Put another way, when given choices that result in fundamentally identical outcomes, most people will avoid risk when they perceive potential gain, but are willing to engage risk when confronted with potential losses. “Framing” of our choices is therefore hugely influential.
Kahneman and Tversky describe this as the “psychophysics of value” and describe two ways of thinking. “System 1” thinking is automatic, involuntary and intuitive. It’s also easy, requiring very little effort – “lazy” thinking, one might say. “System 2” thinking is computational, requiring attention, time and effort. We have to actively decide to undertake System 2 thinking. They are the “fast” and “slow” options referred to in the title of Kahneman’s book. The thought experiment described above is System 1 thinking very much in action. World economies, stock markets, politics, advertising and consumerism are all very much about how System 1 thinking can be promoted and manipulated. Hence, the Nobel Prize.
We don’t have to go far these days to find an example of this principle in action. Donald Trump’s bombastic rhetoric in the American presidential primaries seems, at least in part, an attempt to “frame” the dialogue in negative terms (American weakness, vulnerability and multiple perceived foreign threats). By doing so, he develops a sense of fear for the future that he hopes will encourage the electorate to engage a risky, non-conventional alternative (i.e. him). Since Mr. Trump has basically no experience in elected office, foreign affairs or any of the expected concerns of a potential president, he needs to steer people away from System 2 thinking. He’s been doing a remarkably, frighteningly, effective job to date.
If you think physicians are above such influences, apparently you’d be mistaken. Tversky and his colleagues carried out a study at the Harvard Medical School wherein physicians were given information about the expected outcomes for surgical versus radiotherapy approaches to lung cancer (McNeil et al. New England Journal of Medicine 1982; 306:1259-62). The five-year survival rates favoured surgery, but with greater short term risk. Half the physicians participating were provided information that focused on survival (one month survival rate 90%), whereas the others were given mortality rates (10% mortality in the first month). Guess what? Eighty-four percent of the Harvard physicians favoured surgery given the first description, compared with only 50% when given the second description. System 1 thinking dominates when we focus on bad outcomes.
So how is all this relevant to medical students and practicing physicians? There are clear implications for our understanding of the concept of informed consent. In Ontario, this comes under the Health Care Consent Act of 1996, which reads, in part:
Consent is not valid unless it is informed. A physician must provide a patient with information about the nature of the treatment, its expected benefits, its material risks and side effects, alternative courses of action and the likely consequences of not having the treatment.
The following clause describes the terms “information” as follows:
The information provided to a patient must be information that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would require in order to make a decision about the treatment.
All, seemingly, very reasonable. However, given what we now understand about the power of framing in making critical choices, it appears making a choice is about much more than the factual content of information provided. The manner in which options are provided and the way in which outcomes are presented will be very influential in determining the response. Imagine an elderly patient with coronary and mitral valve disease who is highly symptomatic and considering surgery for both symptom relief and prolonged hospital free survival. Consider the following three presentations, all of which are factually true:
- “There’s a 90% chance that you’ll survive and be home within two weeks.”
- “The surgery carries a 10% risk of dying either in the operating room or within two weeks after.”
- “There’s no chance you’ll be alive within two years without surgery.”
Do you think there’s a difference in how patients and their families will respond to those three statements?
Do you think the person delivering those options has capacity to manipulate the decision?
Is this a problem?
I think we’d all agree that the answer to the first two questions I’ve posed is unquestionably “yes”. The third is obviously controversial.
Legislation is important and necessary to ensure protection of the public, but it will always be limited in its ability to penetrate the individual relationship between physician and patient. Its role is to balance the need to ensure rights that protect the vulnerable, while not handcuffing or interfering with the delivery of individual care. One can only respect the intention and great challenge of lawmakers who struggle to achieve that balance.
Physicians will therefore always bear a high responsibility in counseling about medical decisions. While it’s true that the patient and chosen advisors always have the “final say”, it’s both disingenuous and irresponsible for physicians to suggest that informed consent begins and ends with the provision of factual information. There’s no escaping the high responsibility that goes with advising. There’s no short cut. Truly informed consent can only be provided by someone who truly understands the patient’s full history, personal situation, wishes and ability to process information. Moreover, it can only be provided by someone who not only understands all that, but also has the patient’s best interest as their primary goal. In our increasingly busy, hospital and service-centred approach to acute care, all this is becoming more difficult to provide.
Are there solutions? Increasing involvement of primary care physicians or non-physician providers, advanced directives and enhanced access to all medical records will all help. At the heart of the matter, however, must be a recognition that the process of deciding to undertake a particular treatment or procedure is at least as important as its actual provision, and should be recognized as such.
Physicians can’t, and shouldn’t avoid being influential in patient decision-making. Is that a problem? Not if that influence is rooted in a truly caring relationship, informed by a deep understanding of the patient’s full situation, wishes and aspirations.
Anthony J. Sanfilippo, MD, FRCP(C)
Undergraduate Medical Education
“When the patient fainted, her eyes rolled around the room”: How to make medical charting clear and accurate.
Recently Dr. Maurice Bernstein from The Keck School of Medicine, at University of Southern California, wrote into the listserve DR ED with this intriguing question:
I find many first and second year medical students present their patient write-ups for their instructor’s review with errors both typographical but also errors in presentation that makes statements seriously ambiguous. I tell my students to read what they have written and then re-read again as an individual who knows nothing about the patient. In addition, I have presented them with a list of “comic” but presumably also realistic medical charting errors.
Is there something more I can do to teach the students to be more attentive particularly later when what they write for the record has greater clinical significance for the patient than a first or second year student?
MEDICAL CHARTING ERRORS
- By the time he was admitted, his rapid heart had stopped, and he was feeling better.
- Patient has chest pain if she lies on her left side for over a year.
- On the second day the knee was better and on the third day it had completely disappeared.
- She has had no rigors or shaking chills, but her husband said she was very hot in bed last night.
- The patient has been depressed ever since she began seeing me in 1986.
- Patient was released to outpatient department without dressing.I have suggested that he loosen his pants before standing, and then when he stands with the help of his wife, they should fall to the floor.
- The patient is tearful and crying constantly. She also appears to be depressed.
- Discharge status: Alive but without permission.
- The patient will need disposition, and therefore we will get Dr. Shapiro to dispose of him.
- Healthy appearing decrepit 67 year old male, mentally alert, but forgetful.
- The patient refused an autopsy.
- The patient has no past history of suicides.
- The patient expired on the floor uneventfully.
- Patient has left his white blood cells at another hospital.
- The patient’s past medical history has been remarkably insignificant with only a 45 pound weight gain in the past three days.
- She slipped on the ice and apparently her legs went in separate directions in early January.
- The patient experienced sudden onset of severe shortness of breath with a picture of acute pulmonary edema at home while having sex which gradually deteriorated in the emergency room.
- The patient had waffles for breakfast and anorexia for lunch.
- Between you and me, we ought to be able to get this lady pregnant.
- The patient was in his usual state of good health until his airplane ran out of gas and crashed.
- She is numb from her toes down.
- While in the ER, she was examined, X-rated and sent home.
- The skin was moist and dry.
- Occasional, constant, infrequent headaches.
- Coming from New York, this man has no children.
- Patient was alert and unresponsive.
- When she fainted, her eyes rolled around the room.
After I finished giggling, I started to think…this is a problem with an educational and literacy component. What does educational pedagogy teach us to assist with this issue?
So here are a few ideas from my experience as an educator —these could be potential teaching strategies. BTW, don’t do all of these…:) 1-3 should make some impact.
- Work with this list: Give students the charting errors list above—it will be a good teaching moment for them and help them see how awful some of their errors could be. You could ask them in partners (to share the fun) to correct the errors as best they can, reading between the lines, or to create a set of questions that would help clarify some of them. In other words, put them in the role of the teacher.
- Think of busy times: Ask students to list the times they may be most busy in a clinical setting. This list should be posted for them to remind them that these are the times they need to slow down and focus most, ironically, on their writing.
- Writing and recall for purpose:
a. Ask students to generate a list of purposes for charting; writing for purpose is a strong strategy for improving writing. I’m hopeful some of the purposes will be: pay respect to the patient’s illness and the patient (patient-centred care), safe care for handover and for others reading the chart, legal documents for liability, etc.
b. Then, ask students to keep these in mind as they chart. Mindful exercises could include using a symbol to associate with each purpose—drawing it, literally, or drawing it clearly in their minds, using a key word to help them recall, or if they tend to associate sounds, or colours with concepts, they could do that.
Ask students pause for exactly 3 seconds prior to charting to collect their mind, to steady their writing and to recall these purposes. Actually 3 seconds is like taking a deep breath.
NOTE: thinking about the target audience, as in “Who potentially is going to read this?” can also achieve a impact.
- Simulated chart exercise: Give students a simulated case and a chart exercise and a very stringent time limit. Ask them to work in pairs and edit each other’s notes after the exercise. OR, use “Pass It On” strategy, where students affix a nickname, or number to their work (to preserve anonymity and dignity :)) and pass the chart along to the left, so that at least 4 people get to weigh in on it with feedback. NOTE: this is also a good exercise in how to give feedback—warn them against being sarcastic, or harsh—their time will come! Ask students to practice good feedback techniques: being specific, offering suggestions, avoiding judgements of the person, focusing on the writing, etc.
- Read the chart entry aloud. Ask students to practice this. This takes approximately 6 seconds at most (depending on the chart). Reading a piece of writing aloud is another recommended editing strategy practiced by writers.
- Be careful with the use of abbreviations and acronyms which are not commonly used or can be ambiguous in interpretation. For their patient write ups, except for absolutely classic clinical acronyms such as C for “centigrade” or BP for “blood pressure”, the words should be written out such as “myocardial infarction” and NOT “MI” since MI could also represent “mitral insufficiency”. You could teach students that if any obscure acronym is to be used later on in the text, in its first use, the full expression should be written then followed in parentheses with the acronym noted. Unfortunately, also, many acronyms or abbreviations in medical use are not written in a standardized manner between one institution and another and this can also lead to errors if not recognized. Bottom line: avoid or be really careful. (Thanks to Dr. Maurice Bernstein for this tip.)
- Avoid General statements: I got this feedback to a student from a nursing blog article by Katie Morales called 17 Tips to Improve Your Nursing Documentation.
Teacher: For example, you wrote “Dr. Smith called.” Did you mean: you called and are waiting for a return phone call; physician called nurse; or nurse called and spoke to physician?” A better option is “MD
paged, assessment findings discussed, and no additional orders at this time.”
Similar to strategy 1, I would give the students general statements where they can figure out what’s going on, similar to Ms. Morales’ example. I’d work through one or two on the screen with the students first.
- Checklist of common charting errors: Making a checklist of these for students is helpful and having it handy when they are charting is also helpful (make it pocket-sized). Checklists are a helpful literacy tool—no reason they shouldn’t work with charting literacy: Here are errors from a good module RN.com has: Professional Documentation: Safe Effective Legal. (Students could make it into an alpha list or an acronym list). Most of these would be applicable for physicians as well as nurses. (You might want to make them positive: e.g. “Record Pertinent Health or Drug Information.”)
Common charting mistakes to avoid include the following:
- Failing to record pertinent health or drug information
- Failing to record nursing actions
- Failing to record that medications have been given
- Recording in the wrong patient’s medical record
- Failing to document a discontinued medication
- Failing to record drug reactions or changes in the patient’s condition
- Transcribing orders improperly or transcribing improper orders
- Writing illegible or incomplete records
from: Nurses Service Organization, 2008, pp. 4 – 5
From a medical standpoint: Take a look at: Top 10 documentation error pitfalls: from Wisconsin Medical Society: 2008.
- Teach with examples. Show students excellent examples of charting to give them the necessary language for their work. Give them criteria that facilitate effective charting. Look back at the RN.com for some great criteria! As well CMA (Canadian Medical Association) has a good module called Medical Records Management with 31 (!) criteria for effective charting.
NOTE: I’ve never met anyone who can keep to a 31 point checklist, but the criteria cited are all really important, so…perhaps students can check off the ones they think they do well already, and star the ones they need to work on. A sampling of their work in clerkship (observation and feedback—still necessary) will demonstrate their self-assessment skills as well as how well they record.
10. For senior clerks and residents: The nursing module, RN.com: Professional Documentation: Safe Effective Legal, has a list of situations that are classified as high stakes documentation. This would be critical information for senior clerks and residents. (You’ll see that I’m citing nursing education here a lot: Nurse Researchers and Nurse Educators do excellent work on health and education.)
In Ratnapalan et al, Charting Errors in a Teaching Hospital, these suggestions for residency are included:
- Many training programs recognize that residents in their first month may have charting errors and have put in place orientation programs, increased supervision from senior residents and staff, and a more thorough review of the notes that are written by new residents.
- The ED at the Hospital for Sick Children is the only dedicated pediatric emergency department in the city of Toronto, and 380 to 400 trainees rotate through the department annually. Currently, there are orientation packages, orientation sessions, and a Web-based orientation available for trainees to teach accurate charting of emergency records.
- The orientation package is a large binder with complete instructions on goals and expectations, codes of conduct, medical record keeping, handling of specimens, procedures, and academic activities.
Glad to get feedback on these strategies, and add to the list! What do you suggest?
The Troublesome Ethics of Entrepreneurship in Medical School Admissions
Medical school applications are becoming big business, and a rather troubling expression of supply and demand economics.
The “demand” side consists of the many thousands of young people in North America engaged in the highly competitive process of applying to the limited number of seats available at publicly subsidized Canadian and American schools. Rebecca Jozsa, our intrepid Admissions Officer and I recently explored the “supply” side by carrying out a simple Google search of options available to the assist the aspiring medical school applicant.
For MCAT preparation, we found no fewer than 22 available courses (probably an underestimate). The “MCAT Ultimate LiveOnline 123-hour” experience is offered multiple times per year for $2,199US. For those who prefer more intense and more personal preparations, the “MCAT Summer Immersion” experience can be had for $9,499US, not counting, of course transportation and accommodation. The “Most Comprehensive Prep Course in Canada” runs over 10 weeks, costs $2,195, comes with testimonials from satisfied customers and features both instruction by successful students and “unlimited free repeat policy”. There are many other choices, a veritable smorgasbord of choices.
One can also opt for more comprehensive guidance through the entire application process. One group provides the following offering: “With our flagship service, we offer unparalleled quality that will make your application to medical school stand out”. In addition to “MCAT prep”, clients can opt for any or all of “Online Diagnostic”, “Comprehensive Application Planning”, “Application Review”, “CASPer prep”, “Interview Crash Course”, “Interview Preparation”, and “MMI prep”. Costs, understandably, vary based on individual preference and perceived need, but appear to range from a few hundred dollars for individual components to more comprehensive packages such as the Platinum bundle which goes for $3500US. It’s hard to get all the details as to what’s available without engaging one of the friendly “consultants” for a “personalized needs analysis” (which we declined) but the sky appears to be the limit in terms of costs. Some arrangements even come with money-back guarantees!
It’s clear from the advertising that many of these programs employ, or are even operated by, medical students or recent grads. Who, after all, would be in a better position to provide the “inside information” so essential to success?
So, is all this a problem?
On the one hand, all this is perfectly legal free enterprise. It’s addressing a perceived need, clients are fully informed and fully competent, no one is forced to engage these processes unwillingly. It could be argued that these programs allow very worthy and genuinely motivated young people to pursue their dreams and overcome many of the unintentional barriers that we all would acknowledge are inherent in the admissions system. One could argue that medical schools themselves have given rise to these business opportunities by making the MCAT such an integral component of the admission process, while at the same time dropping basic science prerequisites.
On the other hand, one must also acknowledge a number of potential concerns:
- The widespread availability of these services may force students to participate to simply not be disadvantaged relative to other applicants. It’s no understatement to say that candidates feel desperate for any advantage in the process. That desperation, it could be argued, is being exploited.
- This intensive preparation and rehearsing for the various application processes may result in candidates portraying themselves in an unrealistic fashion, thus subverting a process fundamentally intended to ensure applicants are appropriately suited to a career in medicine. Such “mismatches” can be disservice to all, including the applicant themselves.
- These services are obviously expensive, adding a further socioeconomic barrier to medical education, a problem widely acknowledged in both Canada and the United States.
- The involvement of medical students, as paid consultants or instructors is troubling. Their recent experience with the details of application processes, including the structured interviews (for which most schools require them to sign a non-disclosure agreement) makes them attractive for this role, but also sets up an ethical dilemma: Can they undertake to help applicants navigate their interviews without sharing information or insights they have acquired as a result of their own experience? Even if specifics are not explicitly divulged, it’s hard to imagine that their recent intimate involvement in the process won’t find its way into their “counseling”.
All this provides lessons and demands reflection on a number of levels.
For the aspiring applicant, perhaps a word of caution. The principle of “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware) very much applies. There is no accreditation or credentialing process for these offerings. Applicants may not be getting valid advice. I’ve heard anecdotally from students who have been advised to avoid expressing any personal opinions and instead memorize and regurgitate the prepared responses to anticipated questions. Admission committees and interviewers, searching for sincerity and deep commitment to a career in medicine, are astute assessors and have become very attuned to the “coached” candidate. They will become even more vigilant. The sincerity and true commitment they’re looking for tends to stand out, and is very difficult to artificially manufacture.
This entrepreneurial phenomenon should also cause medical admissions committees to reflect on their processes. One has to question the validity of the MCAT as an assessment of scientific aptitude if an “immersion experience” is truly effective in influencing test results. Do we believe a background or interest in basic science is an important applicant characteristic? If so, do we feel successfully undertaking an MCAT prep course meets that criterion?
For medical students, entering a profession that is self-regulatory and rightfully expects high levels of personal integrity and accountability, opportunities to become involved in these programs pose perhaps their first personal ethical dilemma. Clearly, what makes them attractive to these agencies is not their personal counseling or teaching skills, but rather their status as successful medical school applicants, which brings considerable cachet and intimate knowledge which is of high value. They will find (as they will as practicing physicians) that their professional identity can’t be easily separated from their personal lives, and therefore puts them in an ethically ambiguous position.
In our society, it seems supply will always be found when demand exists and sufficient resources are made available. That this has extended to the medical school admission process should come as no surprise. However, it does raise some unintended, but nonetheless concerning consequences. As always, your views on this issue are most welcome.
Anthony J. Sanfilippo, MD, FRCP(C)
Undergraduate Medical Education
Year in Review? Why wait until then?
When I worked as a journalist (about a million years ago), an annual task was writing “Year in Review” articles. These were summary or “round up” stories with the highlights of the previous year.
The stated intent was historical record, reminders and reminiscing; marking highs and lows, significant events and momentous occasions. On a more practical level, these stories could be compiled fairly easily, mostly in advance, and take up copious column inches in our weekly paper in the week between Christmas and New Year’s when nobody was reading anyway and the editorial staff wanted to take extra time off from covering newer news. Closely tied to these were “Resolutions You Should Make Now!” advice columns.
With this cultural backdrop assigning retrospection to the turn of the year, it’s easy to become cynical about such things—and reduce thoughtful review to top-ten lists and cliché-ridden commentary. For educators, however, the importance of review should not be treated so lightly. Review and reflection are important. We expect our learners to do it. Educators should give it just as much attention.
Review and reflection are integral to effective teaching practice. January is a great time for this, but so is June, or September, or some other month. Right now, for some, a semester has recently ended, for others, it’s just beginning. There are benefits to both retroactive and proactive review – and in doing it more frequently than an annual check-mark on a to-do list.
So, instead of a ‘year in review’ summary, or even a list of new year’s resolutions for medical education, here’s a sample framework for incorporating review into your teaching practice. (Use it annually, or more often, as needed).
Theresa’s Five Step Review and Revise Process
Step 1: Review & Reflect
Whether you’re considering a whole course, a few teaching sessions, or a single seminar or other learning event the process is the same. Consider:
- What happened? What worked? What didn’t? (If you’re forecasting: What could be some pitfalls? What am I worried about?)
- For anything that didn’t go well, or didn’t accomplish what I planned: How can I fix it? (Forecasting: Do I have a back-up plan? Do I need one?)
- What’s a manageable change? Do I have the knowledge, skills and ability to do this? Where can I get support and/or resources? (Forecasting: Do I have the resources I need? What kind of feedback could be helpful to me on my teaching sessions?)
Step 2: Reconsider
Once you’ve reflected on what’s happened, or what you have planned, consider:
- Did I meet my objectives (or will my plan meet my objectives)?
- Are there things I did (or I’m planning) that are just out of habit?
- What should I change to make my course/session/seminar more engaging/relevant/appropriate?
Step 3: Find Resources
When you revise your teaching plans, you may also need additional resources. This could be in the form of your own skills, materials, input from colleagues. Consider:
- What support do I need to get to where I’d like to be?
- Do I have the abilities to do what I plan? If not, how could I acquire the necessary skills?
- Are there existing materials that could help me? Do I need to develop new materials? Who could help with that?
- Who could I call on for support or assistance?
- What sort of time frame do I have?
Step 4: Refine your plan
Sometimes, what we’d like to do just isn’t in the cards this year—there can be a lot of constraints on our teaching in time, materials, scheduling. It’s important to refine revisions into things that are manageable and realistic. Sometimes you are in a position to make large-scale changes to how you deliver your learning events, other times, not. Avoid the “all-or-nothing” plan: Incremental changes are better than no changes. It’s better to be good, than to be perfect. Consider:
- How realistic is my plan?
- Are there things I consider “must haves” and things that are “nice to haves”?
- If I could only make one change in my teaching right now, what would it be?
Step 5: Reflect & Review
At the end (or the beginning) – take another look. Good teaching really is an iterative process with the cycle of review, revision, redeliver.
Sometimes the best way to review and reflect (and plan) is to talk it out with a colleague. Bouncing around ideas can bring new perspectives and inspire you and others to add to your teaching toolbox. If you’d like to chat about your teaching any time, get in touch with the Education Team.
Socrates, “pimping” and teaching in medical education
Recently, one of the words in the title of an article in Academic Medicine really caught my eye: “Socrates Was Not a Pimp: Changing the Paradigm of Questioning” by Dr. Amanda Kost and Dr. Frederick M. Chen. (Kost & Chen, 2015)
Of course, the word that caught my eye was “Socrates,” he of sitting with students under an olive tree fame
Much of the scant information we have about Socrates is from his students, Plato and Xenophan. Plato portrayed Socrates as an excellent teacher and questioner, in the Dialogues, where a series of questions is asked not only to draw out individual answers, but also to encourage fundamental insight into the issue at hand.
Can it be, Ischomachus, that asking questions is teaching? I am just beginning to see what is behind all your questions. You lead me on by means of things I know, point to things that resemble them, and persuade me that I know things that I thought I had no knowledge of.
Of course, I can’t deny that another word caught my eye in the title: It’s not always that you see the word “pimp” in a medical education journal.
However, it’s a common term in medical education, since 1989 at least, where Brancati used it to refer to a questioning method that is supposedly Socratic but is defined as “whenever an attending poses a series of very difficult questions to an intern or a student.” (Brancanti, 1989) He suggests questions “should come in rapid succession and be essentially unanswerable.” There are other definitions, and the “not a pimp” authors Drs. Kost and Chen, write that in these definitions the purpose of the practice is to reinforce the power hierarchy of the team and, more specifically, the attending physician’s place at the top. (Kost and Chen, p. 21)
In a 2005 study, by Wear et al. fourth year medical students were questioned about the practice of this form of questioning:
Students divided pimping into “good” and “malignant” categories. “Good pimping” actions included questioning that advanced or enhanced the learning process and also encouraged students to be proactive about their learning…“Malignant pimping” frequently employed techniques designed to humiliate the learner. All students in this study identified humiliation as an outcome of any type of pimping—even good pimping had a component of shame because of the public embarrassment of not knowing the answer. (Wear, et al, 2005 cited in Kost & Chen)
I’d like to discuss “pimping” both from a syntactical and a pedagogical perspective.
I was trained as a language educator to acknowledge that language has a very pronounced impact on constructs in our thinking. I have to admit that I don’t get the use of the term. The other definition of pimp: a person, especially a man, who solicits customers for a prostitute or a brothel, usually in return for a share of the earnings; pander; procurer (Online Dictionary and Merriam-Webster Dictionary) seems to have very little to do with questioning, whether benign, or malignant.
“Pimping” then… you know, that’s the last time I’m going to use the word! I dislike the relationship it implies that could so easily settle into the hindbrains of all us who have been using it. With your permission, I’m going to try “hounding” instead. Drs. Kost and Chen agree with me: “This word may evoke a negative affective response, and we would also argue that the use of such a derogatory term to describe an experience in medical education is unprofessional.”
Because, you see, questioning is one thing, and is an excellent and powerful educational tool. However, when does questioning move into “hounding”? It happens when the questioner is pursuing a different goal than a pedagogical one: perhaps humiliation(“She needs to know this stuff”), or going way beyond the knowledge of the level of the learner (“Shouldn’t clerks know this, or is it residents? Fellows?”) or venting frustration and anger (“You guys think you’re so smart? Well, let’s see…). They include the well-known “Read my mind” type of question, and the question that is so obscure that very few know the answer (except perhaps the questioner?).
In the Wear study, students felt questioning “was useful to “promote learning, logical thinking, defending one’s decisions, quick recall, self-assessment, and communicating well with one’s peers.” They didn’t like the hounding part of it, and wanted to use volunteering answers as an alternate to centering someone out and hounding them. (I know, I know…this can be an important part of questioning…I hear you and I’ll come back to this.)
So, let’s get back to Socrates. The Socratic questioning method is used often today, tho’ it appears it can be misunderstood. In a recent vehement and lively DR-ED listserve discussion, the Socratic method was linked heavily with “hounding” by one participant.
Socrates used the dialectic method of teaching, whereby he assumed the role of someone who knew nothing about a topic, and drew the students’ ideas out, through a series of questions, each one probing more in depth or looking at different options. (Fun fact: Did you know that the word “education” comes from the Latin ex ducere (to lead or draw out?)
Since Socrates was mainly concerned with students uncovering their own beliefs, and the validity of those beliefs, the correction of misconceptions and reliable knowledge construction all around large concepts such as truth and justice, modern teachers have created a sort of system for modern Socratic questioning of all types of learning. Here are some of the characteristics:
1. Students are questioned in a group, and in modern times, others in the group can collaborate with each other to find answers. But not always…Socrates challenged his listeners and students. And he picked them out, as well as had them volunteer. But learners could help each other. You’ll see in this sculpture, Socrates teaching in the Agora, by Henry Bates, below how avidly everyone listens to each other.
2. Socrates believed questioning would motivate learners and help them to the joy of learning. Thus, questioners should create a safe and comfortable context for questioning, where wrong answers are simply a signpost to heading down another path of learning. In other words, they wouldn’t mind being centred out because they were enjoying learning.
3. Use of by “why”, “what if” “how”, “then, if…” or open-ended questions vs. closed ended questions such as “What is this object?” “What is 1+1?” (Perhaps we can start with close-ended questions especially for novice learners, but they shouldn’t be the end goal of the questions.)
3. Socratic questions must be: 1) Interesting, 2) Incremental, 3) Logical (moving from the student’s prior knowledge towards a goal), and 4) Designed to illuminate particular points.
4. Questions should be well-planned with a goal of benefiting the student at his/her learning level in mind. Sometimes you have to start factually, but there should be progression toward critical thinking.
Let’s summarize, and then I’m going to prepare for you to write in to tell me what you think about “hounding” and questioning:
1. Let’s not use that word again…it’s really ugly semantically.
2. Hounding is not questioning. Hounding is hounding and it’s not supported pedagogically. Questioning is an excellent way to teach. It doesn’t have to be sweet, nor does it have to be easy. It has to be respectful and with the appropriate underlying purposes.
3. If we’re going to claim that “hounding” is Socratic, or even our questioning strategies are Socratic, let’s start using Socrates’ methods more. Let’s aim for critical thinking questions, one of Socrates’ key purposes in questioning.
4. Let’s focus on our learners and tailor questions to their learning level.
5. Let’s create a climate where questioning is accepted and even welcomed. Let’s give our learners appropriate language to acknowledge they haven’t prepared, or are at the limits of their abilities thus far and need assistance.
In my next column (look for it in January 2016), I’ll provide more suggestions—based on Socratic principles—for keeping Questioning productive.
So, what do you think? Are you a Socratic questioner? Do you think hounding has a purpose? Are there aspects of your teaching and questioning that can be enhanced through Socrates?
Looking forward to hearing from you about this.
And it’s not a smooth segue, but while I’m here with you, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all the best of the season!
And here’s to great teaching in 2016!
Brancati FL. (1989). The art of pimping. JAMA. 262:89–90.
Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/pimp and Merriam-Webster Dictionary http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pimp
Kost, A.& Chen, F.E. (2015). Socrates was not a pimp: Changing the paradigm of questioning in medical education. Academic Medicine, 90: 1.
Wear D, Kokinova M, Keck-McNulty C, Aultman J. (2005). Pimping: perspectives of 4th year medical students. Teach Learn Med. 17:184–191.
It’s time to re-invent the Clinical Clerkship
The need to provide supervised learning within the clinical setting has always been regarded as essential to the development of future physicians. Indeed, early versions of medical education consisted entirely of what could only be termed apprenticeships under the direction of a fully- qualified physician who was engaged by the student as the tutor, mentor and assessor. It was largely as a result of Abraham Flexner’s (pictured) transformational 1911 review of medical education in North America that medical schools were required to provide formal instruction in the basic and medical sciences. However, Flexner continued to emphasize the critical role of learning with the clinical setting. This became consolidated into the discrete role that came to be known as the Clinical Clerkship.
Being a “Clerk” was to have a job or role within a hospital’s complex system of service delivery. The role consisted of “clerking” patients (carrying out admission histories and physicals), following the progress of patients through their hospital stay, arranging and following up on investigations, and coordinating discharge and post hospitalization follow-up. In addition, Clerks had unofficial but widely accepted service delivery roles of their own within hospitals, including phlebotomy, administering intravenous medications, performing simple procedures such as Foley catheter insertion, cast removal, simple suturing and recording electrocardiograms. Appropriately supervised and monitored, this role provided opportunities to engage patient care in all its complexity in a transitional fashion, leading eventually to more independent practice after graduation. The service delivery component of the clerkship was eventually recognized as such with the provision of a modest stipend, which continues today. Importantly, the role of the Clerk varied very little between services, specialties and differing patient populations, the goal being to develop strong foundational skills in patient assessment and management, which were felt to be consistent and “learnable” within any patient care context.
In short, being a Clinical Clerk was a job. Clerks had a widely understood and (dare we say) useful role within the hospital. As a Clinical Clerk, a medical student felt part of the service delivery because they were making a tangible contribution. They therefore felt, and were, valued.
Many factors have combined to, gradually and without deliberate intention, dramatically alter the role:
- The service components came to be recognized as excessive and non-educational, to the point of diminishing true educational opportunities. Accreditation standards confirm and reinforce this perspective.
- Our hospitals have become much more focused on efficient, focused, therapeutic management of patients with complex and critical diseases. Diagnostic processes, so important to the Clerkship learning experience, have largely shifted to the outpatient setting.
- Career selection and the CaRMS application process have become a major focus for our students, making multiple, shorter service assignments preferable to the longer, continuing assignments that allowed the Clerk to develop a clear role within service teams.
- Hospitals are much more regulated environments that require clear definitions of roles and scope of practice for all providing care.
Although these issues are all valid, one must now ask what price we’ve paid for this evolution. A few questions come quickly to mind, and are being asked by our students, faculty and hospital personnel on a daily basis :
- What aspects of patient charting are Clerks expected to provide?
- To what extent are Clerks empowered to write patient orders?
- What diagnostic tests are Clerks empowered to order?
- Is a Clerk permitted to submit a consultation request or requisition for an invasive investigation?
- What medications can a Clerk prescribe, if any?
- What procedures are Clerks expected to provide?
- Can a Clerk obtain informed consent for procedures? If so, what procedures?
- To what extent should a Clerk be expected to provide care for a patient in an emergency (arrest) situation?
- In all these issues, what degree of supervision is required, and by whom?
Clearly, the application of all these aspects of service provision will vary between clinical assignments, but their fundamental nature (or, to use hospital terminology “scope of practice”) should be consistent throughout. It should not be necessary to re-define the Clerk role for every rotation.
Our Hospital Liaison Committee, capably chaired by Christopher Gillies with representation from all teaching hospitals, faculty, administration and students, has recently been considering solutions to the Learning Environment concerns described in previous articles (meds.queensu.ca/blog/undergraduate/?p=2026). They recognized that many of these concerns may have their roots in this lack of clarity regarding the Clerk role and have therefore advocated a redefinition of the role. To this end, our Clerkship Committee (Chaired by Andrea Winthrop and consisting of all Clerkship Course Directors) met this past week to re-define the role or “job” of the Clinical Clerk, recognizing our current educational requirements and current reality of the hospital based learning environment. They have already made excellent progress in addressing the various issues listed above.
To short, our senior medical students (Clinical Clerks) are able to make valuable contributions to patient care in the hospital environment. It is in doing so that they truly grow as physicians. That can only happen with a clearly articulated and widely accepted role description, appropriate to the modern hospital environment, developed jointly by medical education and hospital leadership.
Anthony J. Sanfilippo, MD, FRCP(C)
Undergraduate Medical Education
Students compete in 7th Annual Health Care Team Challenge
Three interprofessional teams of students faced off on Monday, November 16 in the 7th Annual Queen’s Health Care Team Challenge.
The teams tackled a case developed by the Health Service Centre team at Canadian Forces Base Kingston. Each team had students from Nursing, Medicine, Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy and Psychology.
The five-member judging panel included two local clinicians who developed the case, along with faculty, student and patient representatives.
The teams had been preparing for the competition since October 16.
The winners were “Team Three”, which included: Ahyoung Cho, Nursing; Wilson Lam, Medicine; Heather Shepherd, Occupational Therapy; Kayla Hertendy, Physical Therapy; Stephanie Gauvin, Psychology; Additional Team member: Elishea Mardling, Occupational Therapy; Back-up member: Verdah Bismah, Medicine; Faculty mentor: Lynne Harwood-Lunn, MN, RN, School of Nursing.
The two other teams were: Team One: Kyrinne Lockhart, Nursing; Alex Trajkovski, Medicine; Allie Rogers, Occupational Therapy; Heather Greene, Physical Therapy; Melissa Milanovic, Psychology; Additional Team member: Richa Kukkar, Physical Therapy; Back-up member: Shikha Kuthiala, Medicine; Faculty mentor: Brent Wolfrom, MD, School of Medicine. And Team Two: Charlotte Wilson, Nursing; Stephanie Piper, Medicine; Joshua Lee, Occupational Therapy; Erin Makins, Physical Therapy; Robyn Jackowich, Psychology; Additional Team member: Claudia Romkey, Nursing; Back-up member: Greg Smith, Physical Therapy; Faculty mentor: Heidi Cramm, PhD, OT, School of Rehabilitation Therapy.
Co-moderator Anne O’Riordan noted that all three teams’ presentations were exceptional, each presenting the case in a unique way which made for an educational evening for all. Co-moderator Ralph Yeung was a member of the very first Queen’s team in 2009.
The Health Care Team ChallengeTM is an interprofessional education event, originally developed at the University of British Columbia in the 1980s. Students volunteer to participate in order to enhance and practice their collaborative team skills. Each student interprofessional (IP) team is provided with the same case to work on for a period of three weeks, with the goal of developing a collaborative, interprofessional person-centered plan of care. A faculty mentor is matched with each team for consultation and advice.
The Queen’s Health Care Team Challenge is jointly sponsored by the Faculty of Health Sciences’ Office of Interprofessional Education and Practice (OIPEP) and the Queen’s Health Interprofessionals Student Society (QHIP).
Team Three (soon to be renamed the Queen’s Team) will compete in the National Health Care Team Challenge™ in March 2016, hosted this year by Dalhousie University.
“Major Marlene Lefebvre was instrumental in connecting the health services team at the base with OIPEP, after initial email connections made by Alice Aiken,” O’Riordan said. “It really took a ‘health care community’ to do develop, organize, and implement this event and the learning was apparent for everyone.”
Here’s the beginning of the case the teams had to address:
You are a medical officer (MO, i.e. a military physician) in the health care team in Care Delivery Unit (CDU) 2 at 33 CFH Svcs C in Kingston, Ontario. The Base Surgeon (BSurg) informed the team yesterday the she was talking to the task force surgeon in Afghanistan and that an injured female service member would be arriving at the clinic this morning for an assessment. It will be sometime mid-morning before she arrives, hot off a CC-117 Globemaster transport aircraft landing in CFB Trenton at around 0730.
You don’t know much about the case other than that she is a 25 y.o. captain logistics officer who was injured two days previously in Cyprus, where she was undergoing a decompression stop after finishing her tour in theatre in Afghanistan. You note that she is a member of the Canadian Forces Joint Operations Support Group (CFJOSG) based at Canadian Forces Base (CFB) Kingston, and you remember that members of the unit were attached to a provincial reconstruction team (PRT). She is ambulatory as far as you know…
Credit where it’s due:
It takes a lot of effort from a great many people to pull an event like this together. In addition to the teams, here are the folks who made it happen:
Health Services, Canadian Forces Base Kingston
CFB Kingston Liaison:
Major Marlene Lefebvre
Anne O’Riordan, OIPEP Clinical Educator, QHIP Advisor (OT)
Ralph Yeung, HCTC winner, 2009; IP Award of Leadership, 2013 (X-Ray Tech)
Welcoming Keynote Address:
Dr. Alice Aiken, Director, Canadian Institute for Military and Veteran Health Research, Queen’s University, Royal Military College, Kingston. (PT)
Dr. Lucie Pelland (SRT) – Faculty Representative (PT)
L.Cdr. Bradley Stewart, Clinical Rep. (Medicine)
Capt. Dwayne Rennick, Clinical Rep. (Social Work)
Amanda Shamblaw, Student Rep., QHIP Exec., Past HCTC participant (Psychology)
Dr. Peter Dunnett, Community/Patient Rep. (Economics Professor, ret., RMC)
Chloe Hudson, QHIP Executive Member, Past HCTC winner (Psych)
Presentation of Team Certificates & Team Photos:
OIPEP & QHIP
Presentation to Winning Team:
Dr. Rosemary Brander, OIPEP Director (PT)
Why I can’t build an addition and the fall filing cabinet
This fall, I’ve been cleaning out closets and filing cabinets and purging, as they say on Houzz. I didn’t want to—I hoard my teaching materials as if they were gold. But, my husband said, “If you don’t get rid of some of this stuff, we’ll have to build an addition onto the house.”
I don’t quite know why that’s a bad thing…:) Teachers are packrats—you never know when you’re going to need something again to help students and other teachers.
However, apparently we can’t build an addition just for more filing cabinets. So, I’ve started cleaning out my notes on teaching from…well… I started teaching in 1980…
I’ve rediscovered some wonderful things, and I thought I’d share some with you. Here are a few from my filing cabinets:
- First of all for our students (and anyone else who reads): I found this poem by the late great poet Maya Angelou which actually a student drew to my attention years ago (a shout-out to Jessica Chiu formerly at OCA!). It’s about reading, and if there’s anything I know about UG medicine, it’s about the amount of reading you have to do. I hope you find lots of ideas sticking to your mind.
Popcorn leaps, popping from the floor
of a hot black skillet
and into my mouth.
Black words leap,
snapping from the white
page. Rushing into my eyes. Sliding
into my brain which gobbles them
the way my tongue and teeth
chomp the buttered popcorn.
When I have stopped reading,
ideas from the words stay stuck
in my mind, like the sweet
smell of butter perfuming my
fingers long after the popcorn
I love the book and the look of words
the weight of ideas that popped into my mind.
I love the tracks
of new thinking in my mind.
- More for students…and teachers using small group learning: Roles to Assist in Group Learning
Many medical students have told me about their horror stories of group work, either in high school or university. And it’s true…sometimes teachers throw students into groups without advice or support to work things out. Sometimes one student dominates the group; others are couch potatoes and hitch-hikers. Some block consensus, some goof around and still others withdraw. Bearing in mind our adult learners in medical school, and also the concept of self-directed learning, here are 20 (!) roles which students can adopt in groups. So even if a student is an introvert (see the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking), he or she will find some useful roles below. Teachers, you can encourage students by helping them see these roles in their work. (Thanks to my old bosses, Gray Cavenaugh and Ken Styles at the Ontario Ministry of Education. I’d forgotten how good you were!)
Students, practice putting yourself in each of these roles, think of others in the group, and begin developing your group leadership strengths. Teachers, when I used these with students in the past, I asked them to read them over and put a star beside the ones they do, and an exclamation point for a few they’d like to try.
Teachers, do you recall hearing that students learn best with this saying: Tell me; show me; let me try?
It’s actually the first thing I heard about (that I remember) when I hit Teacher’s College all those years ago. Here’s how I translate it into Medical Education:
|What it means||In medical school|
|Tell me: lecture or telling—even assigning reading especially with guides. Learners say, Get me oriented, motivated and let me absorb facts and concepts.||Provide students with facts, characteristics, vocabulary, symptoms, etc. through (mini-) lectures, or readings with questions attached, about medical conditions, systems, and approaches. Our RATs, or quizzes help students process what they’ve been told.|
|Show me: Learners say, Demonstrate how this works so I can see it in action. Give me examples of how it works!||Show students through written or verbal examples–cases you have encountered on how to recognize patterns, how to differentiate among diverse conditions, etc. Video clips and demonstrations are also really useful! A summary of your key findings and learning and the strategy of Think-Aloud (just what it sounds like) from the cases is useful for students to follow your thought processes. Don’t forget to tell them what you ruled in, and what you ruled out and why.|
|Let me try. Learners say, Give me a chance to apply the learning to see if I can do it myself, or if make it work in different situations.||· Provide students with written or verbal cases through which to work, often with a partner or in a group, so that they can learn how to apply the facts and examples you have given them.
· Change up the circumstances: paediatric or geriatric patient; chronic conditions vs. acute conditions, co-morbidities, different presentations or similar presentations with different associated conditions, different points in the illness journey.
· Put students in a simulated learning environment—such as with standardized patients.
· In clerkship, under supervision, allow clerks to apply their learning to patient care.
Key here is to find out if the students have learned through their application (mid-terms, graded team assignments, individual assignments) and observe them in practice (MiniPEx, MiniCEx, field notes, etc.).
So three tips from the files. I found a few more 🙂 Stay tuned…
Have a great fall! I’m looking forward to continuing the dialogue about teaching and learning.
We write these blog articles with ideas, thoughts and strategies, usually for teachers, but often for students too.
We’re always interested in your thoughts, so please feel free to respond.
What’s in your filing cabinet?
Using Copyrighted Images in an Educational Setting: A Primer
By Mark Swartz, Copyright Specialist
Understanding a few of the basic concepts behind Copyright law can help explain why some images can be used in certain situations and others cannot. The most useful concept to consider when thinking about how images can be used is balance.
A Balancing Act
In the landmark Supreme Court case Théberge v Galerie d’Art du Petit Champlain Inc, Justice Ian Binnie characterizes Copyright Law with the following statement:
The Copyright Act is usually presented as a balance between promoting the public interest in the encouragement and dissemination of works of the arts and intellect and obtaining a just reward for the creator.
When you create a work, whether it is a book or an article, a photograph, a painting or any of the other types of expression covered by copyright (Copyright Act, RSC 1985, c C-42, s 5 retrieved on 2015-10-16), you automatically get a bundle of exclusive rights to that work. These rights include the right to copy, to distribute, and to assign your rights to others. The full sets of rights that you get are listed in the Act (Copyright Act, RSC 1985, c C-42, s 3 retrieved on 2015-10-16). And, while these rights are exclusive, they are limited in both time and scope. The balance between exclusive rights and limitations ensures that creators are fairly compensated for their work, while still allowing for some permission-free uses in ways that contribute to the public good.
Limitations to the exclusive rights of copyright holders include the following:
- Copyright protection does not last forever. In Canada, the general rule is that Copyright lasts for 50 years after the death of the copyright holder. After that point, the work will fall into the public domain and can be used for any purpose.
- The Copyright Act lists a number of situations where Copyrighted works can be used with permission from Copyright holders. These situations are called exceptions. The most well-known exception is called the fair dealing exception, which allows for some use of copyrighted material, as long as the use falls under one of the purposes listed in the Act, and if the dealing is fair (Copyright Act, RSC 1985, c C-42, s 29.1 retrieved on 2015-10-16).
If you have determined that you are using a copyright protected image, you need to get permission from the copyright holder or you must ensure that your use falls under one of the exceptions in the Copyright Act.
So what does this mean if I want to use images in my class?
There are a wide variety of exceptions that apply to the use of copyrighted images in a closed, educational setting like a classroom or a Learning Management System. In the classroom, there is an exception that permits the reproduction of copyrighted images for use in PowerPoint presentations on campus (Copyright Act, RSC 1985, c C-42, s 29.4 retrieved on 2015-10-16). Additionally, fair dealing and the publically available materials exception will allow for the inclusion of many images in PowerPoint slides uploaded to Learning Management Systems like MEdtech. For more information, please see the In the Classroom and the On the Internet sections of the copyright and teaching section of my website.
As for images used in student assignments and presentations, most of the images used by students are likely to fall under the fair dealing exception. I do, however, always recommend that students do their best to find copyright free (or suitably licensed) images, so that when students leave the university and are asked to use images in the workplace, they know how to find images that can be easily used without having to get permission. Suggestions for finding these types of images are available on the Resources page of the copyright and teaching section of my website.
What about using images in materials that I post to the open web? What about images in conference presentations, posters and in research projects?
When you move from a closed environment like a Learning Management System to an open environment, it becomes more difficult to rely on exceptions like fair dealing, particularly if you intend to use your work for commercial purposes at any point.
In these situations, I would avoid using copyright protected images without permission and instead rely on finding works that are either licensed through the Creative Commons or that are in the public domain. The “resources” link I included in the section above provides some resources for finding these types of images. Images used in conference presentations and posters are much more likely to be fair than those on the open web, but I would be careful posting these presentations and posters on conference websites.
Finally, most images used in research projects and theses are likely to be fair dealing. One complication is that if you are going to publish in a traditional journal or publication, it is likely that the publisher will require that you get permission for everything. Fair dealing is often perceived to be too much of a risk for these publishers, so, if you are going to go that route, make sure you find materials where permission can be granted easily or is not required.
This is just a brief overview outlining some of the main image-related considerations that you might come across as an instructor or researcher. If you have any further questions about the use of images, please get in touch with me at extension 78510 or at email@example.com.
Théberge v. Galerie d’Art du Petit Champlain inc.,  2 SCR 336, 2002 SCC 34 (CanLII), <http://canlii.ca/t/51tn> retrieved on 2015-10-16.
Copyright Act, RSC 1985, c C-42, s 29.1 <http://canlii.ca/t/52hd7> retrieved on 2015-10-16.
Accreditation Success Stories…and lessons going forward.
Medical school accreditation has been described, with some justification, as the colonoscopy of medical education. The parallels are rather striking:
- Both require a long and distinctly uncomfortable period of preparation.
- Both require a public exposure of personal features most would prefer to keep modestly hidden.
- Both can get messy.
- Both carry high potential for embarrassment.
- In both cases, the procedure itself can be tortuous and painful.
- And finally, for the asymptomatic and fundamentally healthy, their value is highly debatable.
Also like colonoscopy, one emerges from a successful examination with a sense of great relief. That relief, in part, is simply related to having completed the process. Doing so with a successful report of findings adds immeasurably to that sense of relief.
At Queen’s, we are fortunate to have recently emerged from our own collective internal examination with that great relief, having achieved a full eight year approval, with no further invasive procedures required until 2023.
Reflecting now on a process that really started after our last review in 2007, it’s possible (and probably healthy in a preventive sense) to set aside for a moment the struggles and various deficiencies that required attention, and focus rather on the positives that have emerged. A few come particularly to mind and merit attention because they bear important messages we should carry into the future.
Firstly, our success was based on our ability to mount a common effort. Without question, the very real threats to our school imposed by the 2007 review galvanized our efforts and collective will in a way that made possible the changes that we needed to make.
Our Deans (both Drs. Walker and Reznick), engaged accreditation efforts with resolve and unconditional support. Our university leadership (particularly Principal Woolf whose first duty in his new role was to publicly defend a medical school he had just inherited), have been staunch supporters of the accreditation effort. Our Department Heads, to a person, have been nothing but supportive of the school. Our curricular leadership, undergraduate office, medical education team, medical technology unit, hospital partners and, critically, our students, all came together to meet the various challenges, and did so with methodical efficiency, driven by a shared desire to support (dare I say, defend) our school. One sees such common, focused effort only rarely, and usually only when necessitated by great and imminent peril. It is nonetheless rather inspiring to consider what our common efforts achieved and speculate on what might be possible if we could continue to work collaboratively without the need for external motivation.
Secondly, one must acknowledge that many significant and enduring changes emerged from these efforts. A robust and effective new curriculum, effective assessment methodologies, creative and updated approaches to teaching, a revised and much more effective governance structure, a refurbished framework of policies and procedures, our highly impressive and sought after MedTech curricular management system, and even our new School of Medicine Building itself were all, at least in part, motivated or accelerated in their development by our accreditation efforts.
The process brought welcome attention to a number of areas of strength within our school, often overlooked as we focus attention on problem areas. Refreshingly, and unexpectedly, the recent report made reference to our teaching, which it identified as an area of strength. To quote from our report:
As reported by students in the ISA [Independent Student Analysis] and by the survey team, the program benefits from many capable and dedicated teachers. For example, in the MEDS 125 [Blood and Coagulation] course, with 99% of students commenting on the course, no negative comments were made within the 9 pages of comments, and the survey report suggests that the Course Director and the faculty involved in this course are to be congratulated…. Another course that received similar accolades was MEDS 127 [Musculoskeletal], where the team reported: “Dr. L Davidson who continually monitors and enhances the course. This is a “poster child course” and Dr. Davidson deserves significant recognition for the evolution of this highly innovative and interactive course.”
In fact, we are truly blessed with many dedicated and talented teachers, knowledgeable and committed faculty leaders in all key portfolios, committed and hard working undergraduate administrative and educational support teams, and a receptive and engaged student body.
In the final analysis, the most enduring lesson we should take away from our eight-year struggle with the accreditation process must be that we never again require a “crisis” to spur us to collective action in order to ensure we are providing the very best educational experience for our students. Complacency is poison. The continual, collective pursuit of quality improvement and courageous innovation must be our continuing goals. These are the lessons of the day.
Anthony J. Sanfilippo, MD, FRCP(C)
Undergraduate Medical Education