Welcome in the new year with some great features from MEdTech

Happy New Year!  Our indispensable Special Curriculum Assistant, Alice Rush-Rhodes has put together 3 items in MEdTech Central that will save you time, and help you in your teaching.

Included are links to more detailed instructions.  If you have any questions please comment below.

This information is excerpted from the MEdTech Features page of the Faculty Resources community found here.  Additional FAQ and information is available on the linked page.

What do I have to complete on a learning event page?

You need to identify what you will be teaching including MCC presentations and curricular objectives.  A guide to completing a learning event page can be accessed on that page.

Learning event 2014-01-06 at 9.40.52 AM

Why do I need to know this?  Every faculty member is responsible for completing their own learning event page.  Most importantly, you can tailor your session to the curricular objectives for the course.   You can ask for help from your curricular coordinator or from Alice or Sheila.

How can I search for learning events on a certain topic or MCC presentation?

You can use the Curriculum Search tool or the Curriculum Explorer tool (both located under the Curriculum tab).  Curriculum Search lets you search by keyword and Curriculum Explorer lets you search by MCC presentation or curricular objective.  A video about using this function can be found here (look for the Curriculum Explorer video towards the bottom of the page).

Why do I need to know this?  If you’re teaching on a specific topic, it’s important to know what has been taught to students prior to your learning event.  It’s also important to see what they are taught later on “downstream” in the curriculum.  The search or explorer features will do that for you.  This way, you can avoid redundancy but plan to revisit some aspects (spiral curriculum) and link to future aspects.  It also gives you a heads up as to who is teaching about this topic, with a view to linking up with these faculty to discuss the thread of the topic.  E.g. Many of the faculty teaching in year 2 refer back to the Family Medicine Course’s approaches, or link to the Clinical Skills exams, etc. that relate to their topics.

Go to the Courses tab here.  All courses currently running (excluding clerkship rotations) will have a small icon beside their names (it looks like a piece of paper).  By clicking on this you can download a pdf of the course syllabus.  Included in this is a breakdown of the course hours by learning event type.

You can also click on “Download Syllabus” under the Course Navigation menu if you are already on a course page.

You can see the little syllabus icon in the image below.

syllabus 2014-01-06 at 9.26.56 AM

Why do I need to know this?  The syllabus is hugely helpful, especially for Course Directors.  It tells all faculty and students what the learning objectives for the course are, what the assessments are, etc.  It also lets you know the percentage of lectures, small group learning, labs, etc. that are present in the course.



Posted on

Holiday Gifts for Teaching

Red ribbon with bowIn the spirit of the holidays, I thought I’d seek out some extra special gifts for teaching our meds students.   Here are some great ideas to make 2014’s teaching even better!

I’m sending you these, from the UG Educational Team,  with a wish for peace-filled and joyful holidays with family and friends .

First gift:  A way to find out what your students are thinkinggifts 1

Did you know we subscribe to Poll Everywhere for our year 1 and 2 students?
And that you can use it with up to 40 other learners otherwise?  It’s clickers without clickers—students can use their phones or laptops to answer questions anonymously in the classroom. Teachers can use word document, or PowerPoint, or ask a question orally to solicit the answers.  Questions can be multiple choice, or they can be open-ended!

To get Poll Everywhere to work, you can visit their site for a demo video:  http://www.polleverywhere.com/

Or you can look at their explanation:  http://www.polleverywhere.com/how-it-works

Or you can contact Theresa Suart in the Ed Team at theresa.suart@queensu.ca, or Lynel Jackson at MEdTech at lynel.jackson@queensu.ca

Second GiftDiagnostic process (and winning points):

gift 2Dr. Tony Sanfilippo isn’t only our UGME Associate Dean extraordinaire, he’s also an intuitive teacher.  One of his cases, Megan, is one I use for explanations all the time with faculty.  Here is a slide from his Megan case that gives the diagnostic process in a nutshell.

And while I’m at it, another gift he gives us is the idea of getting students to rank their ordering of investigations, winning or losing “points” (often in chocolate) depending on how rational their choices were.  2 ideas from Megan

Third gift:  A Graphic Organizer: gift 3 blue


Have you ever wondered if you could synthesize a concept or unit so that students could grasp it visually?  Dr. David Lee from Hematology has done a great job of this with my favourite slide of all time:  the algorithm for Hematapoiesis.  Here it is:   hematapoiesis slide Dr David Lee    Why not see what you can do with your ideas?   And if you need help with graphic organizers, Theresa or I can give you a hand—they’re one of our best tools.

Fourth Gift:  A way to take our student’s pulses:  RATS and Muddiest Points:gifts 4

Dr. Lindsay Davidson has won so many teaching awards, I can’t keep track.  Here she offers 2 ways you can take your students’ pulses.

In our professional lives, many of us are used to “taking the patient’s pulse”.   This, and other clinical observations, inform our assessment and management plans.   Similarly, as teachers, we can “take the pulse” of the students – finding out what knowledge they bring into a session or checking in to determine if important concepts have been grasped.

One of the best ways to do the first of these is a readiness assessment test.    Readiness assessment tests – or RATs – are used at the beginning of a curricular theme (normally spanning about a week of the curriculum).  These 10-15 question tests are designed to assess foundational concepts needed to progress to problem solving – they are quite different from the questions given on midterm and final exams.   A RAT should be linked to one pre-defined preparatory resource (such as a section from a textbook, an online module or a review article).   Students complete them individually and then re-take them as a team.   The whole process is complete in 30 minutes, leaving the teacher time to speak to any questions or topics identified as difficult or confusing.

Another way of checking the class’ vital signs is a “muddy point” exercise.   Popularized by former Queen’s Chair of Teaching and Learning Tom Russell as the “ticket out of class”, this exercises asks students to submit a note to the teacher (either on paper or could be electronically using polleverywhere’s open ended question function) outlining the “one thing” they do not understand.   A review of the submissions allows teachers to begin the next class clarifying any items multiple students identify as confusing.

Interested in trying a RAT or Muddiest Point?  Check in with Sheila or Theresa.

Fifth Gift:  Music to lighten and focus the teaching and learning load:  gift 5

There are several tasteful and (ahem) not quite so tasteful music videos out there where people have created peons to everything from medical careers to organ systems.  Perhaps you could use one as a memory tool or a way to introduce a concept.  Theresa recently found this takeoff on What the Fox Say, in Harvard Medical School’s What the Spleen Do http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aEi_4Cyx4Uw.  I’ve always loved Pinky and the Brain on the Brainstem:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=snO68aJTOpM  More lyrically, Dr. Jackie Duffin sent this lovely excerpt about the muscles in the gluteous maximus:  http://www.spiraldynamik.com/newsarchiv/huefte_1.mp3.

I just found Lullabye for a recovering addict by Jake Silver:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PFJ3DMdiEMU&feature=youtu.be (Thanks to U Sask’s Deidre Bonnycastle’s scoop on music videos!) and Dr. Heather Murray and I crossed paths sending each other Viva la Evidence by James McCormack:  a parody of Coldplay’s Viva La Vida – a song all about evidence based: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUW0Q8tXVUc

And finally, here’s the song Clouds written by 17 year old Zach Sobiech after being told he has months to live:   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDC97j6lfyc  and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLhUS_QjcZY

And my last gift:  gifts 6

This was really a gift that was given to me, and I’d like to share it with you as a way to close out 2013, and look forward to 2014.

I’m going to have to tell you a little story…Once, long ago…

Some of you will recall the days when we worked hard to infuse small group learning into our curriculum.  Going back about 5 years, our students were resentful and confused, and I was concerned our teachers were just confused. emoticon-smiley-thumb7130916  Sitting in those classes, week after week, I worried that small group learning would never work—that lectures were too much the pattern of learning and that all the reasons that had bubbled up—too long, too complicated, inefficient, students don’t like it…all these reasons for not teaching this way would overcome our efforts.

Flash forward to a C1 class in September 2013.  I was wandering the back of a class given by Dr. David Taylor.  He put up a clinical case on the screen.  There was a pause—a discernable beat– while 100 students looked at and read from the screen.  Then, as one, all of them turned to their group members and began to talk.  Books were hauled out, computers fired up, tasks divided, and the usual wrangle about who’s the note-keeper soared overhead.  It was a symphony of sound of minds at work.  Even more beautiful:  it was commonplace and accepted. The students knew exactly what to do.  The teacher did what he was supposed to do—stand back and let the students wrestle that learning to the ground before taking to the stairs and moving around the room.

I can’t tell you how wonderful it felt!  I saw this again even more recently as Dr. Michelle Gibson had her C2 class working on a graded team assignment, reconciling medications for a patient. Again the class gave their attention to the screen and then again the busy hum.  And the results were wonderful—groups passionately prepared to defend their new prescriptions, and scathingly and brilliantly able to articulate why they had taken several prescriptions away.

I guess the gift for me is that after 5 years, small group learning is now part of the status quo.  Teachers feel comfortable.  Students know how to make this kind of learning work for them and are used to using it. They haven’t abandoned learning from lectures, nor have they stopped reading.  But they look at the screen…beat…and they turn to their peers.  I tell you, it almost brings tears to my eyes.

So this is my last holiday gift for 2013:  our faculty have made innovations in teaching work and our students are making innovations in teaching work.  Thank you for that gift!

And may 2014 bring us many more gifts!  Red ribbon with bow


Do you have any gifts to share?  Musical, textual or other?  Write back and let us know.








Posted on

The Challenge of Career Selection

When are Medical Students ready to decide?

Medical students begin their studies believing they have decided upon and achieved their career path, and can now devote their energies and attention to advancing that goal.  They soon learn that even greater and more complex decisions lay ahead.  The process of career selection has become a major cause of concern and stress for both medical students and curricular leaders at our Canadian medical schools.  Students must, by the end of medical school, select from among over 30 postgraduate training program options, which will further differentiate into over 70 approved medical specialty certifications.  Are students ready?  A recent, informal survey was carried out among the first and second year classes at our medical school.  Students were asked to state their agreement with one of three statements:

  1. I have a single, clear career interest.
  2. I have narrowed my focus to between 2 and 5 options
  3. I have no idea


So it would appear only a minority of our students have established a choice by these early years, although it’s unclear how durable these choices will prove to be.  It also seems that some further clarity emerges even by second year, but the majority of students remain uncertain.  Studies from the British medical educational system would suggest that about a quarter of doctors change their career choice after qualification (Goldacre MJ, Lambert TW, Medical Education 2000:34:700-707).  A review of Canadian graduates reports that 83% of graduates felt somewhat or very well prepared to make career decisions, but that leaves a full 17% who described themselves as “not at all sure” by graduation (Columbia B. Can Med Assoc J 1997;156:1248)

To illustrate how much the medical landscape has evolved, it might be useful to consider a “Tale of Three Classes”.

1870This photograph provided by Queen’s Archives illustrates one of our earliest graduating classes, circa 1870.  Students of that era received a common 3-4 years of instruction and clinical training, after which they were fully qualified practitioners.  Their scope of practice throughout their careers was virtually identical, determined only by the needs of the communities they served.







Let’s move forward about a hundred years.  The second photo was taken at the 25th reunion of my class, Meds ‘81.  My classmates and I also undertook a common four year curriculum.  With one further year of training, in virtually any “internship”, we were all deemed fully qualified as “General Practitioners”.  About half the class remained in General Practice, eventually becoming qualified by the College of Family Physicians when that body and its qualifying examinations came into being.  The remainder went on to additional training in one of the limited number of specialty programs and certification examinations offered by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons.  Importantly, I doubt any of my contemporaries regretted their general training, and even those eventually engaging very specialized disciplines would say that their clinical proficiency and effectiveness was enhanced by that background.

2009Contrast all this to the graduates of Meds 2009.  About a quarter of these students undertook training in Family Medicine.  Many will, by now, have completed the minimum two year training program and will have begun practice, having passed qualifying examinations and achieved full certification through the College of Family Physicians.  The remainder are still in training, having undertaken further training through the CFP or entered a variety of Royal College programs, all with their own entry requirements, training program and qualification examinations.  Although their undergraduate experience would have differed in many ways from that of their predecessors, it was based on a structurally similar four year model, common to all students regardless of career direction.

The routes to practice are, in fact, becoming increasingly tortuous, complex and longer.  In order to better understand this, I’ve consulted with my colleagues in our postrgraduate education office.  Jordan Sinnett, PG Program Manager, provided me with the accompanying table that outlines the various paths to the current available postgraduate programs.   The reasoning by which some programs are direct entry from undergrad whereas others diverge after core training, and the length of time of various programs is all rather opaque, but appears to reside with the individual program committees.

It’s important, in considering all this change, to recognize that the major driver is the increase in medical knowledge, available technologies and vast expansion of valuable service the profession is able to provide to our patients.  Our society requires (and demands) physicians who have the highly specialized knowledge and training that’s required to diagnose and manage our ever-expanding array of conditions and provide technologically complex treatments.  This is obviously all good.  However, as training needs have increased, we have simply added more time and qualifications to those previously available rather than to consider new educational paradigms.  At this point, a few questions must be posed:

  • Is this a problem?  Stated another way, are there unintended consequences of this evolutionary change that should be addressed?
  • What, if anything, is being done?
  • How will all this affect our learners, and can they be expected to engage career selection in a different way?

Unintended Consequences

1.  Increasing focus of attention and stress for medical students.  The expansion of career options and requirement to choose from so many postgraduate training tracks is becoming an increasing focus (some would say obsession) of our students during medical school.  Observerships, interest groups, electives and even summer voluntary placements are all seen, and used, as opportunities to explore career options and advance one’s suitability for the increasingly competitive application process.  Although all of value, these pursuits compete with ever increasing educational demands expected of our students.

2.  Unhealthy competition among students.  Many postgraduate programs are over- subscribed relative to available training positions.  This results in a competitive environment at the very time medical schools are working hard to “undo” the pre-medical focus on superficial academic success and advance principles of patient-centred learning, collaboration and cooperation among colleagues.

3.  Subversion of medical education.  Medical school curricula are increasingly directed toward career exploration, to the extent that both core content and Electives (18 to 20 weeks at most schools) are essentially devoted to this purpose.  Career exploration is, in essence, subverting the educational priority.

4.  Increased time required to achieve practice readiness.  With the expansion of postgraduate programs and numerous emerging competency tracks, the duration of training is getting progressively longer.  Becoming a qualified interventional cardiologist, for example, requires 15 years from university entry (4 year undergraduate degree + 4 years of medical school + 3 years General Internal Medicine + 3 years Cardiology + at least 1 year Interventional fellowship).  Given that much of that time is spent in educational pursuits not directly relevant to the eventual practice requirements, the need for such a long training period is, at the very least, debatable, and given the increasing resource limitations of our health care system, will come under increasing scrutiny.

What’s happening that will affect all this?

The Future of Medical Education Postgraduate recommendations included the following:

Screen Shot 2013-12-09 at 4.17.16 PM

To implement this recommendation, the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada has established three committees with mandates to explore methods to refine processes within undergraduate programs, the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate education, and the transition to practice.  Those groups have been encouraged to think beyond current models.  Those revisions may involve more “streaming” or specialty-specific teaching during medical school, a more gradual transition from foundational to specialty-specific learning, and effective career counseling processes.

However (and this is a big “however”), any such change in the three or four-year common curriculum paradigm will necessarily require our students to make even earlier career choice decisions.  Is this a reasonable expectation?  The information I provided above would suggest they certainly are far from optimally prepared at this time.  So, what would be required to allow our students to make valid, durable career decisions earlier in their training?

The following would seem at least a reasonable place to start:

Clear and easily accessible information about the various career choices available to them.  Students need to understand the scope of specialty options and the essential differences, not only in clinical content, but also credible information about the “life” that goes with each.  They’re particularly interested in issues such as call expectations, mobility, and the availability of opportunities to integrate academic interests with their clinical obligations.

An understanding of their own preferences and aptitudes.  Students require direction and help in thoughtfully and honestly considering a number of personal issues relevant to career selection, such as:

  • Their willingness to engage patients with undifferentiated presentations
  • Their comfort with critically ill patients
  • Their comfort with continuing care versus issue-specific consultancy
  • Their comfort with surgery and procedural work
  • Their comfort with certain patient populations, such as children, the elderly, the terminally ill
  • Their comfort with various practice settings, such as hospital wards, emergency rooms, ICUs,  clinics, and offices
  • The degree of flexibility with respect to practice settings and mobility they wish to have

Although it can be very difficult for students, a full and candid consideration of issues such as these will allow them to reduce their reasonable options to a more manageable number.

Knowledge about availability of training and career opportunities.  Students have expressed very clearly their desire to know about long-term career availability.  Both shared experiences and recent studies (Frechette D et al,  http://www.para-ab.ca/upload/files/docs/employment/RoyalCollege_EmploymentSummary_2013.pdf) have suggested that many highly-qualified graduates of postgraduate programs have difficulty finding practice opportunities in certain specialties.  Students wish to have such information.  In this regard, they are allied with our provincial governments who seek to ensure our production of various medical specialists matches societal needs.  Unfortunately, accurate information is very hard to come by, particularly for students whose entry into the workforce is several years in the future.

An understanding of the application process.  Students need to understand the process by which they will apply and compete for postgraduate positions.  This requires clarity and transparency about both the matching and selection processes.  The former is carried out by the Canadian Residency Matching Service (CARMS), and is open, transparent and effectively provided.  The latter, which is in the hands of each specific postgraduate program, is considerably less transparent and subject to considerable rumour and “urban myth” among students.

Is there hope on the horizon?

All this requires a fresh, early and much more comprehensive approach to career exploration and counseling than medical schools have provided to date.   This week, those directing career counseling curricula and services at the six Ontario medical schools are assembling at the request of the Council of Ontario Faculty of Medicine Undergraduate committee to compare approaches, discuss challenges, and begin to develop more cooperative and effective approaches for our students.

The AFMC and ministry are jointly interested in providing more reliable definition of societal needs for all our specialties.  Such information will certainly be informative for our students.

The FMEC sub-committees mentioned above have, as a component of their collective mandate, consideration of improved student counseling and application processes.

These initiatives provide some optimism that students will be better prepared for their career decisions, and for the systematic changes likely to develop within our medical education programs in the coming years.  All these discussions and initiatives will be more effective if informed by those involved in (and effected by) the processes under discussion.  It’s in that spirit that this article is provided and your feedback is welcome. 

Many thanks to Jordan Sinett (Postgraduate Program Manager), Sarah Wickett (Health Informatics Librarian, Bracken Library), Jonathan Cluett (Meds 17 Class President), Sean Henderson (Meds 16 Class President), Jennifer Siu (Meds 16) and, as always, Lynel Jackson, for their assistance in the compilation of information for this article.

Posted on

UGME (and PG) go to the AAMC: Here’s what we learned

On Nov. 6, a band of intrepid medical educators from Queen’s travelled to Philadelphia to attend the Association of American Medical Colleges’ annual meeting.

Attending sessions from Nov. 6 to 10, Dr. Renee Fitzpatrick, Dr. John Drover, Dr. Laura McEwen, (Assessment Specialist in Post Grad), Ulemu Luhanga (a doctoral candidate working as a research assistant with Laura), Eleni Katsoulas (our UG Assessment and Evaluation Consultant) and I learned a great deal from our American counterparts.

But I would venture to say that they learned some from us too.  For example Laura and Ulemu presented their poster Queen’s Multisource Feedback Rubrics: Operationalizing Frames of Reference for Raters and Residents, and judging from the crowd around them during the whole session, their ideas were well-received.

I attended a great morning with the Directors of Clinical Skills group, where milestones were the topic of discussion and I’ve been invited to share our work on the clinical skills milestones we’re developing.  I’ll write more about milestones and the work from the AAMC in a later blog.

And Eleni went to hear the speakers of a great article, Jim Crossley and Brian Jolly, who wrote Making sense of work‐based assessment: Ask the right questions, in the right way, about the right things, of the right people.

Here she writes about their presentation and their article.  Please feel free to share your thoughts

Multiple Perspectives: finding relevance in idiosyncrasies


owl or coffee cups 2


What do you see in the picture above?

Do you see an owl? Or coffee beans and two cups of coffee? Some of you might say you see both things! Each piece is only part of the whole. This illustrates how different people can look at the same thing and see different things. Any one of these perspectives might be useful depending on the context!

How are  subjectivity and reliability related?

Does every context provide equally valid and reliable data for every domain? Crossley & Jolly (2012) argue that not every context provides good data for accessing every domain! So when might standing back and considering the whole performance give you a better picture than the sum of its parts? Or when are other perspectives just as useful?

The literature demonstrates that those who “have the competence to judge an aspect of performance, and have had the opportunity to observe it, appear to provide more reliable ratings” (Crossley & Jolly,p.35). Since clinical competence is so broad, isn’t it rational to say that multiple perspectives might be equally valid in certain contexts?

What does this mean for those of us teaching and assessing in medical education?
The authors argue that while historically, assessments have often
measured the measurable now we are concerned with measuring the important.  Workplace based assessments are often based on subjective judgements.  Sometimes the assessors develop an ” instrumental impressionism” whereby he or she makes a judgement that is global but, nevertheless, is vitally dependent on an overall, somewhat merged,
perception of the details (Crossley & Jolly, p. 33) and this is an equally valid if not more valid perspective.

For us, a few things emerge:  Some of our finely grained assessments are asking too much of assessors to provide meaningful assessment, especially in cases of concepts that are hard if not impossible to observe in the assessment setting.  Our assessors should be those with experience and knowledge in the specific areas of assessment, and their judgements as opposed to objective observations can and should play a large role in assessment. And finally, we should ask the right questions, in the right way, about the right things, of the right people.


Crossley, J. & Jolly, B. (2012). Making sense of work-based assessment: ask the right questions, in the right way, about the right things, of the right people. Medical Education, 46, p-28-37.

Posted on

History of Medicine 2013: Queen’s Medicine Takes Boston

Thanks to Hollis Roth, Meds 2016, who is our guest writer for today’s blog article, and to  Stefania Spano (Meds 2016) and Dr. Jacalyn Duffin for their photos.

This fall marked the 16th annual Queen’s History of Medicine trip; what began as a trip planned by Dr. Duffin in 1996 to the National Gallery in Ottawa has quickly became an annual tradition fondly remembered by many classes of Queen’s Medicine graduates. This year marked the fourth History of Medicine trip to Boston and spots were highly coveted, with a wait-list maintained until the very day of departure.

After classes ended on Friday, students eagerly piled on the coach bus and settled in for the long trip to Boston. While the 9-hour ride proved longer than anticipated, students passed the time in a variety of ways. Some diligently studied, others caught up with classmates and on sleep, and an unfortunate few spent the majority of the trip suffering from motion sickness. Arriving in Boston close to midnight, a cluster of students set off to explore the city, while others decided to wait until morning.

After gathering for a group photo on the steps of Massachusetts General Hospital, students spent the rest of the day exploring Boston. With only 36 hours to explore the city, students made the most of their time. Popular sites included the campuses of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, as well as Fenway Park, the Boston Central Public Library, and sampling a wide variety of local delicacies. It was a lovely (albeit windy) fall day to wander the city amongst colleagues and friends while briefly escaping the rigorous demands of medical school.


Queen’s medical students explore the Harvard campus.  Photo credit: Stefania Spano (Class of 2016)

We began bright and early Saturday morning with a visit to the third oldest hospital in the United States, Massachusetts General Hospital. Massachusetts General is richly steeped in history and houses the Ether Dome, which served as a surgical theatre from 1821-1868 and is a National Historic Site. On October 16 1848, the Ether Dome was the location of the first public demonstration of the surgical use of ether anesthetic by William T.G. Morton. Under the guidance of Professor David S. Jones (MD PhD and the A. Bernard Ackerman Professor of the Culture of Medicine), and Dr. Sukumar P. Desai (Anesthesia, Brigham and Women’s Hospital), students learned how the use of anesthesia drastically redefined surgery.


Queen’s medical students at the Ether Dome.  Photo credit: Dr. Duffin

Our final stop on Sunday was Harvard Medical School, where we were privileged to have the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine opened solely for our use.

Harvard Med School

Harvard Medical School  Photo credit: Stefania Spano (Class of 2016)

The Countway Library is one of the largest medical libraries in the world, serving Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health, and contains the Warren Anatomical Museum. Led by Dr. Scott Podolsky (MD and Director of the Center for the History of Medicine), Mr. Dominic Hall (Curator of the Warren Anatomical Museum), and Ms. Joan Thomas (Cataloger, Rare Books), students received guided tours.

Countway Medical Library

Zeyu Li (Class of 2016) with Mr. Dominic Hall, Ms. Joan Thomas, and Dr. Scott Podolsky at the Countway Medical Library.  Photo credit: Dr. Duffin

Highlights of our visit included viewing first editions of Andreas Vesalius’ De humani corporis fabrica (1543) and Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) in the Rare Book Library, and viewing the skull of Phineas Gage in the Warren Anatomical Museum.

Dr. Duffin made a very exciting discovery while exploring the Countway Library. Dr. Duffin has long searched for the origins of an image used as a bookplate for books purchased in the 1920s for our medical library, but even after consulting with colleagues across the world the source remained unknown. Happily, Dr. Duffin was astonished to stumble across the very same image in Hortus Sanitatis (1491) while touring a selection of rare books chosen for our viewing. It was an extremely fortuitous discovery – had this book not been selected for viewing or conveniently left open at the relevant page by the student who had previously viewed it, Dr. Duffin may not have made this connection. It can truly be said that this History of Medicine trip was an educational experience for all!

Hortus Sanitatis

The frontispiece of “Hortus Sanitatis” (1491) and the cause of Dr. Duffin’s jubilation.  Photo credit: Dr. Duffin

We would like to extend our deepest thanks to Dr. Jones, Dr. Desai, Dr. Podolsky, Mr. Hall, and Ms. Thomas for taking the time to share their passion in the History of Medicine with us (on a weekend, no less) and for making us feel so welcome in Boston. As always, a huge thank you is due to Dr. Duffin for her continued support of these annual History of Medicine trips, to Zeyu Li (Class of 2016) for organizing the trip, and to the Aesculapian Society for funding. While I will be deep into clerkship at this point next year, I look forward to hearing about next year’s trip!

Posted on

Educational Resources at your Fingertips: Faculty and Students

As teachers, you may want to find resources that assist you with teaching, or find out what the latest news from the Curriculum Committee is, or find out who to contact about what.  As students you may want help about people, places, policies and other “p’s” in the Undergraduate Medical Education program.

We have published two resources recently:

The first is the new Faculty Resources Community:  https://meds.queensu.ca/central/community/facultyresources

NOTE:  first log into MEdTech via the dashboard URL, then simply click on the community, which would be among those listed on the left side of each user’s dashboard page. All faculty members including community preceptors are members of the Faculty Resources Community, but to “see” it you’ll need to log in first.

The Faculty Resources Community was created to provide faculty members, Course Directors, Year Directors and Committee Chairs with advance notice of topics to be discussed at Curriculum Committee meetings as well as easy access to Curriculum Committee Highlights, links to faculty development on teaching and assessment and materials distributed at Course Directors’ Retreats. Other resources posted in the new community include the Future of Medical Education in Canada reports and the latest LCME accreditation standards. We welcome suggestions for additional resources.

The second resource is for students!  The Student Handbook, a brilliant idea from Associate Dean Sanfilippo, and edited by Alice Rush-Rhodes, is now published on MEdTech and is available in a printable pdf format thanks to Lynel Jackson from MEdTech.

To access the Student Handbook, please go to https://meds.queensu.ca/central/community/studenthandbook and to print a copy, scroll down to the bottom of the side menu.  The Student Handbook contains information on people to assist students (including peer mentors), advice on careers, CaRMS and the Dean’s Letter, lockers, MEdTech, the Curriculum, and Special Programs to name a few components.

Is there anything we should add to the Student Handbook?  Any other way you’d like to see faculty ideas?  Just respond to the blog and let us know, or email Sheila Pinchin at sheila.pinchin@queensu.ca




Posted on

Medical Student Research Showcase: Meds student researchers take over the Medical Building

September 26th marked the 2nd annual Medical Student Research Showcase at the Queen’s School of Medicine. This yearly event was brought to us by Dr. Heather Murray (Emergency Medicine and Public Health Sciences), Melanie Walker (Public Health Sciences),  and Amanda Consack (UGME) as well as many other members of the UG staff.  It showcases research performed by our medical students, during their time in medical school, for other students and faculty. This year’s session had a collection of 54 posters in the David Walker atrium, and three students were selected to deliver their research findings in an oral plenary, moderated by Dean Reznick.  It was an inspiring display of innovation, effort and accomplishment.

A wide range of research topics were presented, and over the lunch hour the students were able to go over their work with a crowd of interested faculty and students. Many Queen’s faculty served as poster assessors and completed a structured feedback form so that presenting medical students could understand where their posters succeeded, and also how they might be improved. Additionally, the 10 QuARMS students were introduced to the event through an assignment evaluating the design and findings of 3 posters that appealed to them.

This year, students who attended the poster session were encouraged to vote for their top 3 posters in a “People’s Choice” award competition. We had over 80 ballots cast, and in combination with the poster assessors feedback, a poster winner was selected: Osbert Zalay, with his poster “Foundations of the tricorder: Artificial intelligence solutions for biomedical classification problems.”

Later in the afternoon, the 3 students selected for the oral plenary session delivered their research in the main auditorium. These students were selected after submitting a 5-page summary of their work, each of which was reviewed 3 separate times by a panel of faculty judges: Dr. Albert Clark, Dr. Paula James, Dr. Anne Ellis, Dr. David Lillicrap, Dr. Will Pickett, Dr. Mike Brundage, Dr. Heather Murray, Dr. Tan Towheed and Dr. Rob Brison. Eighteen submissions of extremely high quality were reviewed, and the following students were selected:

Nathan Roth, MEDS 2015 “Inside the brain of an expert: Comparing medical decision making and cognitive processing demands between medical students and experienced medical resident learners.”
Faculty supervisor: Dr. Dan Howes

James Simpson,  MEDS 2015 “Patient evaluation of clinical interaction with medical students: A pilot study.”
Faculty Supervisor: Dr. Andrea Winthrop

Yan Xu, MEDS 2015 “Prescribing pattern of novel anticoagulants following regulatory approval for atrial fibrillation in Ontario, Canada.”
Faculty supervisors: Dr.Ana Johnson, Dr.Chris Simpson, Dr.Anne Holbrook (MacMaster) and Dr. Dar Dowlatshani (Ottawa)

These 3 students, and Osbert Zalay MEDS 2015 (“People’s Choice” Poster) have all been awarded the 2013 Albert Clark Award for Medical Student Research Excellence. This award was established in 2012, in honour of Dr.Clark’s longstanding contributions towards the critical enquiry program at Queen’s.

Students at the Queen’s School of Medicine are actively involved in a wide array of research enquiry with impressive results. Our students are asking questions, seeking answers, advancing care and inspiring change. Congratulations to all who presented, and to the faculty who have mentored them.

Posted on

Help for students reading challenging texts

Many students in medical education are not used to reading large amounts of dense materials, where, as one student put it, “every word is loaded and I end up looking up everything.” When experts read through a reading they have assigned to beginning medical students, they often underestimate the amount of time and effort that is needed.

In other posts, I’ve discussed how it’s important for teachers to preview their assigned reading materials, and to seek out the best material, through help from librarians and educational team members, that accomplishes their goals and is at an appropriate reading level for students.

For today, I’d like to introduce you to a reading method that may assist our students: it’s called SQ3R.
SQ3R stands for Survey, Question, Read, Recite and Review. It’s an approach to reading that can help students retain the information they have been asked to read. It promotes curiosity and a determination toward reading, that is based on the cognitive processes of successful learners. SQ3R is not a new technique–it’s been around since well before I was a university student–which is a long time! 🙂 Credit goes to Francis Pleasant Robinson who in 1946 first published about it in his book Effective study.

So how does it work?  NOTE:  readers, you may find that this looks like a long process.  While it’s longer than skimming, it can become habitual, OR you may want to take pieces of it for your own.  Please “read” on.
Survey: Basically, SQ3R asks readers to survey or look over a whole reading paying particular attention to:

  • The title, headings, and subheadings
  •  Captions under pictures, charts, graphs or maps
  •  Bold print, italics, numbered items, color coded passages, marginal notes, glossaries, outlines, questions, lists, charts, etc.–these are cues that the author regards these as key items
  • Review questions or teacher-made study guides
  • Introductory and concluding paragraphs
  • Summary

Question while you are surveying:

  • Turn the title, headings, and/or subheadings into questions
  • Read questions at the end of the chapters or after each subheading
  • Ask yourself,
    “What did my instructor say about this chapter or subject
    when it was assigned?”
  • Ask yourself,
    “What do I already know about this subject?”

Read, but read for a purpose:  look for answers

  • Look for answers to the questions you first raised
  • Answer questions at the beginning or end of chapters or study guides
  • Reread captions under pictures, graphs, etc.
  • Note all the underlined, italicized, bold printed words or phrases
  • Study graphic aids
  • Reduce your speed for difficult passages
  • Stop and reread parts which are not clear
  • Read only a section at a time and recite after each section or look away from the text and ask a stimulus question–this breaks your habitual reading and allows you to re-focus

Recite after you’ve read a section: ask yourself questions about what you have just read, or summarize, in your own words, what you read through writing

  • Take notes from the text but write the information in your own words
  • Underline or highlight important points you’ve just read
  • Reciting: for difficult passages especially:
    The more senses you use the more likely you are to remember what you read: Triple strength learning: Seeing, saying, hearing
    Quadruple strength learning: Seeing , saying , hearing, writing!

Recitation requires mental activities far beyond those possible through “stroking the words with eyeballs” in a textbook: a technique so commonly used by students. Reciting promotes and speeds learning while rereading and rereading actually slows, impedes, and in some cases, prevents leaning.

Review:  put it all back together again.  Very few people a whole chapter by reading it once.  The Question-Read-Recite process divides a chapter into sections that can be assimilated separately, into manageable chunks. This allows you to set your own pace.

Regular review puts a chapter back together again. In review, you are answering the question that was made from the chapter title.
Review means regular and frequent recitation (or written recitation) of the material to be learned. This is an excellent check for learning.

So how do you review?  Here are review techniques that have worked for me, for my students and from the literature:

  1. Review one day later, one week later, two weeks later
  2. Make a Table of Contents for a chapter from your notes or from memory
  3. Make a point form outline from your larger notes or from highlighted sections
  4. Put a concept map together:  make a visual diagram of what the chapter’s key concepts are
  5. Review out loud (remember the Triple Strength Learning above)
  6. Cover up parts of a page and test your self on  the corresponding parts.

A Problem and Solutions for Students and Faculty:

One last thing:SQ3R is slow.  At least it is slower than the speed at which many students “read.”  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t look at it for medical education.  It’s slower than skimming but really effective in retention.  Perhaps students who are faced with large amounts of difficult material can take pieces from this process and add to their own.  Perhaps teachers can recommend or even put in place requirements for a point form outline or list of key questions or a concept map to be brought to class after assigned reading.

Do any of these techniques strike a chord with you?  Do you have other reading/reviewing suggestions?


Concept Mapping.  http://ctl.byu.edu/tech-tips/concept-mapping accessed Oct. 7, 2013

Robinson, Francis Pleasant. (1970) Effective study. New York: Harper & Row.

SQ3R reading method.  The Reading and Research Series.  http://www.studygs.net/texred2.htm accessed Oct. 7, 2013.

SQ3R http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newISS_02.htm accessed Oct. 7, 2013

SQ3R Textbook study system.  Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  www.wpi.edu/Images/CMS/ARC/SQ3R_Textbook_Study_System.pdf‎ accessed        Oct.7, 2013.

Weideman, M. & Kritzinger, C. (2003).  Concept Mapping – a proposed theoretical model for implementation as a knowledge repository. A working paper from the “ICT in Higher Education” research project.



Posted on

Education Workshops for New Faculty (and those who’d like a refresher)

The Education Team is providing workshops for new faculty (and those who’d like a refresher) on a variety of topics.

What we’ll cover:

The 3.5 hour session will give you the basic tools you need, including:
• Foundations of the UGME curriculum
• Who’s Who in UGME & what they can help you with
• Introduction to Small Group Learning (SGL)
• Assessment 101 (MCQs and Beyond)
• MEdTech & You
• Classroom equipment
And, we’ll share with you information on other training that the Education Team can provide for you.

Three sessions to choose from:

Session 1
Monday, August 26
9 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. (Then join us for lunch with the incoming first year class)

Session 2
Monday, August 26
1 -4:30 p.m (But come at 12:30 for lunch with the incoming first year class)

Session 3
Friday, September 20
8:30 – 4 p.m.

We are submitting this workshop for approval for CME credits for you.

To register, please email

Theresa Suart (theresa.suart@queensu.ca), indicating your preferred session.

(For the August 26 sessions, please register by August 21, so we can let the Orientation team know how many to expect for the lunch. For the September 20 session, please register by September 16).

Posted on

Clinical Problem Solving: A student and a teacher talk about lessons learned from an online course

By Heather Murray, MD, and Eve Purdy, MD Candidate, 2015

For many medical students, the process involved in turning a presenting complaint into an appropriate and focused differential diagnosis seems like a big black box. For clinicians who do this many times every day, the process is unconscious, and it is hard to explain to medical student learners how to break it down. Both students and teachers sometimes struggle with how to transition early medical learners to competent diagnosticians.

black boxSo, when a clinician (Heather Murray) and a second year medical student (Eve Purdy) independently stumbled across the link to a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Clinical Problem Solving offered through Coursera both of us jumped at the opportunity to learn more about diagnostic reasoning. Eve registered with the hope of shedding light on the type of problem solving that she might be faced with in clerkship, while Dr. Murray registered with the intention of improving her teaching around diagnostic reasoning for students.

Though it is difficult to summarize the six-week course in one blog post there were a few takeaways from the course that we will outline. These key points might help medical students improve clinical reasoning and the same tips might help teachers in clarifying the process for learners. Much of this approach to clinical reasoning comes from the NEJM article  “Educational Strategies to Promote Clinical Reasoning” by Judith Bowen (2006).

1. Organize the way you learn about diseases using Disease Illness Scripts

If you have a structured approach to the way you learn about diseases, then you will be more efficient at recalling that information and comparing diseases effectively. One way to organize information is into “Disease Illness Scripts”. This requires organizing information about the conditions into four broad categories.

Epidemiology Timing Clinical Presentation Pathophysiology
-who gets the disease?-what are the risk factors?

-making a mental picture of who you would expect to see with the disease can help

-over what time period does the condition present? 

hyperacutely: hours

acutely: days

sub-acutely:    days-months

chronic: months-years

acute on chronic

-a good way to think about this is where you would expect to see the patient (ER, vs walk-in vs family doctor)

-what are the symptoms? 

-physical signs?

*key features are signs and symptoms that are essential to the diagnosis

*differentiating signs and symptoms are those that make this disease different then diagnoses that present similarly

*excluding signs and symptoms are those that, if present, exclude the disease

-describe and understand the underlying disease mechanism

2. Organize the way you think about patients using Patient Illness Scripts

When thinking about patients try to frame their presentation using the same structure as the disease illness scripts.

Epidemiology Timing Clinical Presentation
What important risk factors does the patient have-age


-relevant medical history

-presentation specific risk factors i.e. recent transcontinental  air travel in a patient with shortness of breath

How long has the patient had the symptoms, have they changed?  What symptoms and clinical signs does the patient have? 

-try to group as many as possible to shorten the list (e.g. group febrile, tachycardic and hypotensive as septic)

3. Compare disease illness scripts and patient illness scripts to generate a tiered differential diagnosis

Generate a differential diagnosis based on the chief complaint. You can compare your understanding about each disease on your differential with your patient using the illness scripts easily. Pay close attention to key features, differentiating features and excluding features. The closer a disease illness script is to the patient illness script the higher it should end up on your differential. Your final differential has three tiers:

Tier 1: Diseases that are those most likely belong here. The epidemiology, time course and clinical presentation are concordant with the patient illness script.

  • Tier 1e: Diseases on tier 1e are diagnoses that may be less likely than tier 1 but if missed will cause immediate and serious harm. These are dangerous diagnoses! The “e” in this tier stands for “emergency” and diseases on this list must be ruled out, even if they are less likely.

Tier 2: Diseases that have some similarities to the patient illness script but aren’t a perfect fit belong here. They are still possible but less likely than tier 1 diagnoses.

Tier 3: Diseases on your original list that do not fit the illness script. They may have excluding features or lack key features.

 4. Use your tiered differential to determine what tests to order

The tier that a possible diagnosis falls into will help you decide what tests to order to determine the final diagnosis. Think of each tier as a pretest probability.

Tier 1 diagnoses have a “high” pretest probability

  • No tests or few tests may be needed to convince you that a diagnosis in tier 1 is responsible for the patient’s presentation and similarly you would need very convincing information to take it off your list completely.
  • These and Tier 1e diagnoses should drive your initial investigations

Tier 1e diagnoses may have varying pretest probability

  • These diseases may or may not be likely but regardless tests with high sensitivity are needed to rule them out (remember “SnOUT”)

Tier 2 diagnoses have a “medium” pretest probability

  • Diseases on this tier are tricky. You really have to evaluate the sensitivity, specificity and information given from each test. You may need a few good tests get from a “medium” pretest probability to final diagnosis.

Tier 3 diagnoses have a “low” pretest probability

  • Even relatively good tests may not move diagnoses from Tier 3 up to tier 1. The positive result that you get might be due to chance. Investigating these diagnoses should be a last resort.

Gear box

These four tips won’t magically turn a medical student into an expert at clinical reasoning but they might serve to expose the way that experts think. They offer concrete ways for medical students to approach clinical reasoning and a common language for experts to discuss their approach with their learners.

For more information about MOOCs and why explicit discussion of clinical reasoning is important, see these links.

Posted on