Tony’s Top Ten Tips for Success and Happiness in the Clinical Clerkship

This week, the class of Meds 2017 begins their Clinical Clerkship. This is a highly significant milestone in their medical education, representing not only the half-way point, but also a transition from a program dominated by knowledge and skills acquisition carried out in classrooms and simulation settings, to “real life” learning in a variety of clinical placements and elective experiences. Last Friday, this occasion was marked by a White Coat Ceremony, conducted by Drs. Armita Rahmani and Sue Moffatt, and featuring personal presentations and “pearls” from Drs. Heather Murray, Andrea Winthrop and Dean Reznick.

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Top Ten lists have become ubiquitous, including those providing unsolicited advice for medical students. In fact, a quick Google search revealed no fewer than 76,200 such compilations, ranging from the authoritarian to the humourous. Undeterred, I offer my own list, all based on more than a few years of experience and observation as to what works and what sometimes goes wrong. So, here goes, in no particular order…

  1. Show up, and show up on time. It all starts with dependability. Even the most brilliant among us are useless if absent or unreliable. On the other hand, there will always be a welcome for the honest, steady contributor. If you are late, apologize, and do not show up with the coffee or snack that you picked up on the way.
  1. Repeat after me: “I don’t know. Self-awareness is right up there with dependability. There will be things you don’t know. There will be things nobody knows. You will not get into trouble or lessen your reputation by admitting to a lack of knowledge or experience with a particular clinical situation or procedure. After all, you’re a medical student, you’re not supposed to know everything! You do need to know what you don’t know. You will have major problems if you compromise a patient’s care through your unwillingness to admit limitations.
  1. Make it your business to learn about things you didn’t know first time. In fact, become an expert in that issue and look for opportunities to apply your new knowledge. When you do, you’ll find it intoxicating, and will search out even more knowledge. Careers have been built on less. Regard every patient and fresh problem you encounter as your curriculum. Keep track. You’ll be amazed at what you’ll be learning, and how fast.
  1. Remember that no decision that’s made honestly and in the patient’s best interest can be wrong. Anything we recommend for our patients, even the simplest decision, test or therapeutic intervention must meet one of three (and only three) criteria – it must relieve symptoms, improve functional capacity or increase life expectancy. There is no other justification for any intervention. You can’t be wrong for trying honestly to achieve one of those goals.
  1. And yet, things can go wrong... Even the best and most obvious decision may not go the way we intend or hope for. When things do go wrong and patients suffer adverse outcomes, it must be openly acknowledged and understood to ensure everyone (including you) learns from that outcome and becomes a better provider. As a medical student, you will not be the responsible party, but are nonetheless in a position to learn. Don’t be afraid to engage such situations, and don’t hesitate to discuss your feelings and reactions with more experienced people.
  1. Ask questions. Not to impress or stand out, but because you really want to know, and are concerned about the impact on your patient. Ask respectfully, but don’t be afraid to challenge decisions. Good clinicians don’t mind being asked to explain what they’re doing. Really, they don’t.
  1. Get along. With everybody, not just those you think are important. Do this all the time. Everyone you encounter knows more about the practical aspects of health care delivery than you do. They all have something valuable to pass along if you’re attentive and receptive. I’m going to use a key word here: Humility. People can sense it and respond positively to it. The opposite is arrogance, which people can also sense but respond to quite differently.
  1. Eat, sleep, laugh. You’ll be busy, but not so busy that you won’t have opportunity to look after your own well-being. Use your down time wisely. Plan meals and recreation. Surround yourself with people who know you well and have the capacity to make you laugh. They will become increasingly precious to you. Talk to them.
  1. Be open to possibilities. If you think you’ve decided on career choice, don’t be shocked (or worse yet, disappointed) if something unexpected emerges. If you feel strongly conflicted, there’s probably a good reason. Talk it out with someone and remember it’s never really too late to change. If you can’t decide because everything seems great, that’s a good thing, but you might also need to talk it out. We’re available.
  1. And finally… look after each other. You know each other very well, and will know when someone is having difficulties, likely before they know it themselves. Don’t be afraid to reach out, or to seek advice or help. Our Student Affairs staff, headed by Dr. Fitzpatrick, Janet Roloson and myself are all available to you or your colleague. Remember QMed Help, the red button available on MedTech.

 

So there you have my list. Happy to receive revisions, additions or comments from readers. Final word to our students – enjoy. Clerkship is a great time to grow and learn.

Anthony J. Sanfilippo, MD, FRCP(C)
Associate Dean,
Undergraduate Medical Education

 

 

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Medical Student Research Showcase

By Dr. Heather Murray and Dr. Melanie Walker
Scholar Competency Team

Queen’s School of Medicine is proud to host the 4th Annual Medical Student Research Showcase on September 22, 2015. This event offers opportunities for medical students engaged in extra-curricular research activities to showcase their work in posters displayed in the School of Medicine Building. These posters will be displayed all day during the 22nd, and students will be standing at their posters and discussing their work from 10:30 until noon in the David Walker Atrium of the School of Medicine Building.

It is also an opportunity to celebrate excellence in the form of an oral plenary session, which will feature the top 3 student projects as selected by a panel of faculty judges.

Showcase 3This year’s faculty judges include:

  • Dr. Anne Ellis
  • Dr. Rob Brison
  • Dr. Tanveer Towheed
  • Dr. Paula James
  • Dr. Jennifer Fleming
  • Dr. Gordon Boyd

We are very grateful to have these experienced researchers evaluating our oral plenary applicants. Showcase 2

The three students selected by the faculty judges to present at the oral plenary beginning at noon will each receive an Albert Clark Award for Medical Student Research Excellence. Their names and project titles, along with their faculty supervisors, are listed below in alphabetical order:

  1. Steven Alexander Hanna: Extended sensory blockade using a hydrogel combined with bupivacaine. Supervisor: Dr. Gregory H. Borschel
  2. Sophie Palmer: A cross-sectional survey of reproductive-aged women’s willingness to participate in medication or vaccine research trials during pregnancy. Supervisors: Dr. Robert Reid & Dr. Graeme N. Smith
  3. J. Connor Wells: Repurposing off-patent drugs in the treatment of cancer: the ongoing story of disulfiram. Supervisor: Dr. Stephen Robbins

We look forward to seeing you in the School of Medicine Building on September 22nd to celebrate the outstanding research achievements of our students.


Check back here on Tuesday afternoon for updates and pictures from the event!


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Dr. Melanie Walker, Dr. Heather Murray, Steven Hanna, Sophie Palmer, J. Connor Wells, and Dr. Albert Clark following the Showcase Plenary on Tuesday.

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Museum of Health Care event to highlight “Medicine in the Making”

Medical artefacts from the Museum of Health Care will be on display in the Grand corridor of the new Medical Building on Friday, September 25 from 9:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

UGME Associate Dean Anthony Sanfilippo and Dr. Susan Lamb (adjunct assistant professor of history of Medicine) will be on hand over the lunch hour.

Curated by Museum of Health Care staff and QuARMS student Chantal Valiquette as part of a summer service project, “Medicine in the Making” is open to all to attend.

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Summer School for Surgical Skills:

More student directed learning

About a month ago, we published the first installment in a series of articles we’ll be providing over this academic year featuring student directed learning that’s occurring in our school. We heard at that time of Alyssa Louis’ exploration of aerospace medicine. This week, I’ve asked Meds ’16 student Riaz Karmali to report on behalf of a group who have worked together and collaborated with faculty to develop a special learning experience in practical surgical skills. Riaz adds some personal perspectives based on his own experience with a medical student fellowship at the MD Anderson Cancer Centre.


Stepping from Idea to Reality: My Experience with the Surgical Skills and Technology Elective Program (SSTEP)

Only a handful of medical schools in North America have structured surgical bootcamps available to pre-clerkship medical students. Two summers ago, the Surgical Skills and Technology Elective Program (SSTEP) was piloted at Queen’s for second year students. This 2-week simulation-based program is designed to build technical skill and prepare students for the operating room. Participants practice suturing, vascular anastomoses, bone fixation, local skin flap design, and nasogastric and chest tube placement amongst other procedures in the surgical skills laboratory. The inaugural program had 22 participants and ran again this summer with increased faculty support and expanded simulation workshops.

SSTEP

How did SSTEP, an entirely student-led initiative, transform from a progressive educational idea into a sustainable program? The success of any early-stage venture, like a high-stakes horse race, is based on two players: the idea itself (the horse) and the team behind it (the rider). Jennifer Siu, Daniel You, and Stefania Spano were the “instigators.” As driven students, outside-of-the-box thinkers, and great team players, they developed a comprehensive proposal and pitched it to Queen’s faculty. Thankfully, they allowed me to come along for the ride. The goal was to prove that SSTEP was worth its $10,000 budget, faculty time commitments, and use of surgical training and laboratory resources.
The SSTEP curriculum has both a didactic and hands-on component integrated into each day. It was eventually tailored to align with clerkship learning objectives. The idea is to provide students with a non-threatening academic environment where they can practice with up-to-date surgical simulation technology. Students can also be able to explore their interest in surgery and surgical subspecialties. In addition, they can receive guidance from senior medical staff and take advantage of a low faculty to student ratio. The curriculum went through multiple iterations before faculty and administration approval.
But how do we know that SSTEP actually builds technical skills? The concept of hands-on instruction in a simulation-based laboratory accelerating the acquisition of technical skill is intuitive. I had experienced this as a first year medical student. I won a summer research fellowship to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas where my project required me to learn basic microsurgery techniques. In the laboratory, I started out with silicon tubes and progressed to arteries and veins in a live rat. However, I was disappointed that I could not quantify my improvement.
Practicing basic microsurgery techniques but unable to quantify improvement.
Practicing basic microsurgery techniques but unable to quantify improvement.
Naturally, we then decided that SSTEP participants should complete an Objective Structured Assessment of Technical Skill (OSATS) before and after the program. It was mandatory to complete a 12-minute basic suturing station in order to track skill acquisition. This research was particularly important given our cost-sensitive healthcare environment that is increasingly dominated by outcomes assessment.
Screen SParticipants completing an OSATS before and after SSTEP to track outcomeshot 2015-09-14 at 9.16.55 AM
Participants completing an OSATS before and after SSTEP to track outcomes
Outside of technical skill, SSTEP also develops surgical knowledge, confidence, and career interest. With the guidance of our supervisor, Dr. Paul Belliveau, we created a written test (partly adapted from Principles of Surgery Royal College Exams) and exit survey to measure these outcomes directly. Our results were accepted to the Association of Surgical Education (ASE) and Canadian Conference on Medical Education (CCME). Jenn and Dan recently presented at the CCME. Hopefully, our experience with SSTEP can be a template for other medical schools interested in launching a pre-clerkship surgical boot camp. At Queen’s, we punch above our weight!
Outcomes of SSTEP:
→ The SSTEP written exam had a maximum test score possible of 73 and students scored significantly higher on the post-test compared to the pre-test (52.1 5.9 vs. 35.8 6.5 p =0.01)
→ Participants showed an increase in technical skill:

→  At the end of the program, 50% of participants said they considered a new surgical subspecialty while 72% of participants reconsidered elective choices

→ SSTEP was recommended to fellow pre-clerks by 100% of participants

→ Comparative and long-term analyses of SSTEP outcomes will continue with subsequent generations of the program
Looking forward, new “disruptive” ideas and technologies will continue to change the way medicine is taught and practiced. The mobile web, big data, robotics, and accelerated drug development are just a few domains where we have seen an unprecedented explosion of investment. Therefore, it is important that the next generation of physicians be dynamic thinkers that can anticipate future challenges and meet them with relevant experience. Any venture that improves the way we take care of a patient, treat disease, or deliver therapy is well worth the successes and failures that go along with it.
I would like to thank the leaders of SSTEP, Jenn, Dan, and Stefania, for bringing me onto their team. I would like to thank Dr. Belliveau for his support with the research study, Dr. Reznick, Dr. Rudan, and Dr. Sanfilippo for their dedication and wisdom, Ms. Kim Garrison for help with the surgical skills lab, Dr. Winthrop for curriculum development, Dr. Leslie Flynn and Bill Leacy for their financial expertise, all of the residents and faculty facilitators, and the amazing support staff who made SSTEP possible!
The inaugural SSTEP Class of 2014
The inaugural SSTEP Class of 2014

A vastly expanded number of practice options are now available to our students. At graduation, they are faced with a choice between no fewer than thirty direct entry postgraduate training programs. Providing opportunities to explore career options and to tailor their learning experience has therefore become a common and major objective of both students and medical schools. Working with our students, building on their imagination and initiative, is proving to be a winning strategy.

Anthony J. Sanfilippo, MD, FRCP(C)
Associate Dean,
Undergraduate Medical Education

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A tale of two sports, a 7-year-old, and how we train doctors

By Michelle Gibson, MD, MEd, CCFP

Director, Year 1
Director, Student Assessment

Fall is a time of transition in many ways. In the land of Undergraduate Medical Education, our 4th year students are facing up to the joys and pains of the CaRMS process, our 3rd year students are anxiously and excitedly contemplating starting clerkship, our 2nd year students are returning to class as experienced students, and we have a whole new crop of 1st year students arriving to engage our curriculum.

In my main job (co-parent to a 7-year-old), it’s the time of year when soccer finishes, and skating starts up (and, of course, the fun and perils of Grade 2 must be addressed).

In the land of 7-year-old sport, as skating is about to start, there is a certain dread that I once again have to bundle up on a beautiful fall day to stand in a cold arena listening to (at times) dreadful music that we know will be played over and over all year long.   The 7-year-old adores skating, though, and looks forward to each new ribbon or badge, and a report card outlining the skills he has acquired over the year. These are proudly displayed in his room. He jumps at every opportunity to skate, including in the middle of a heat wave in August.

While the outdoor soccer venue is generally much nicer for parents (except when we get to encounter Kingston’s weather extremes), it is, for me, fraught with frustration about how my child is supposed to learn soccer, which is a universe away from the approach in skating.

This year, I vowed I would try to be analytical about the differences (versus getting frustrated and emotional, which is the natural parenting reaction), so as to help my kiddo, who really, really likes soccer, but who gets upset because he can’t play as well as he would like, and can’t figure out why.  kids' soccer

In soccer, the theory seems to be that if you find someone who knows how to play soccer, and they volunteer to show kids how to play, kids will learn—even if the much-appreciated volunteer has been given no guidance about how to teach the eager young Padawan. In practical terms, in our experience, this has meant having the kids do drills for 30 minutes, and then having the kids play a game. Somewhere in there, they are supposed to learn soccer. The skills are simple, right? You just run, and kick the ball. How hard can that be?

I have been to about 90% of the practices & games, and I have only rarely seen the kids being shown how to do something. My child has never been taught how to approach a game, even at a very basic level, except that he knows the point is to get goals. He knows that he should pass the ball and he generally understands why this is a good idea, but since he can’t quite figure out how to get the ball passed to him, this is not very helpful at present.

The boy can kick a ball, of course, and he improves a bit yearly, but no one has shown him how to control the ball at soccer practice. Fortunately for us, he loves soccer, and despite all of this, he plays with enthusiasm but not much skill. Other kids have real skills—possibly because their parents were actually taught how to play soccer, so they teach them, or, because they had different coaches over the years.  As the boy ages, he gets more and more aware of the skills differential, and doubt is starting to creep in.

Contrast this to skating. From the first day of his first skating class (with the same child:coach ratio), he was taught HOW to skate, by a certified coach. There was a nice clear list of skills he needed to master before moving up a level. In pre-skate, one key skill is getting up from the ice. (I like that one in particular.) Having moved up to the “real” skating lessons, he works on different skills at three different stations at each lesson. As he masters the skills in any one station, he will get a ribbon, and move up a level.

My child responds to this, and so, having also been born with reasonably good balance, he has moved up the levels quickly, often skating with older kids. Some skating Lessons2skill sets are harder for him, so he might be working on level 5 in ‘agility’ but only level 3 in ‘control’. Anytime he struggles with a skill and he can’t work it out himself, a coach will spend a few minutes watching him and then working with him on the skill. Each group has a teenaged program assistant who also helps show the kids how to do the skills. The report card we get each term has this all laid out for us, and we as parents can help him to know what skills he should work on (spirals, anyone?) to complete his current level.

The parallels to medical education are obvious to me. My medical education, and my clerkship in particular, was much very similar to the soccer approach: here’s some basic info, now go out there with practicing physicians, who have likely never learned how to teach, and, well, absorb it all and figure it out.  If you found a resident, or other clerk, or a nurse who could show you how to do something, or who would explain why something was being done, it was a golden day.  I don’t think this was very different than what most clerks of my era experienced.

Now, I will admit I learned a lot, and, I dare say, I was a good clerk—most of the time. My friends and I banded together, and taught one another. We passed on tips as one of us exited a rotation and the other one started. I definitely remember those days of not knowing what to do, being told to do it, and then not knowing why or how to do it. It wasn’t pretty. Some rotations were worse than others.

Skating lessons are much more in line with competency-based education. Our medical students crave clear directions, and clear instructions. The expectations are high but achievable, if they are clear, and feedback is provided. For some students, it’s easier (but never easy), and they are fortunate, and still deserve good teaching, assessment and feedback so they can improve. Other students really benefit from more explicit descriptions of what is expected, and feedback about what they need to do to meet these expectations. In my experience, most students welcome clear, high, but achievable expectations, in a supported environment. Learning medicine will never be easy, but we should not make things harder by just dropping them into an environment and hoping they figure out how to get the clerkship ball, so to speak.  A few minutes of direct observation can help me determine where a student is struggling, and I can provide feedback—something I am (mostly) comfortable with, having benefited from many hours of faculty development and good mentors.

As we enter fall, the boy’s soccer medal has joined his collection, and he is anxiously awaiting the beginning of skating in a few weeks. I am not looking forward to the hours in the cold rink, but I know my frustration level will be significantly decreased. I’ll be ready and happily working with all the students in our curriculum, but I’ll work hard to ensure that our new clerks, in particular, do not feel like a somewhat lost soccer player in the middle of a field, knowing they want to be there, but not actually knowing where the ball has gone.

Welcome to clerkship, #QMed2017. I look forward to seeing you on the wards, and remember to have fun!

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