Five ways to get moving on your summer reading plans

I worked at my campus’ library to help pay for my first university degree. The evening hours worked well with my coursework, the commute was great (walk across the quad!), and I was surrounded by books.

This last point was both a blessing and a curse: my “to be read” list grew and grew with each shift, whether I was shelving returns or stamping the university logo on newly-acquired tomes for the collection. Each book I came across was ripe with possibilities.

We all have a TBR “pile”: either physically in the form of stacks of books or journals, or virtually as a list (written or mental). Summer can be an ideal time to catch up on “required” reading or savour something from the “just for fun” section but sometimes getting started can stall you in the stacks. Try these five steps to get down to precious reading time.

1. Cull the pile. If it’s been a while since you organized your pile, don’t be afraid to remove titles. Your needs and interests may have changed in the intervening months. And something that seemed highly relevant back in January might not be as appealing now. Also, if you start a book and find it’s not living up to its promise, ditch it. Why waste your time? I give a book 40-50 pages to impress me; otherwise, I move on. (This works for non-fiction and fiction alike).

2. Set the time. We schedule times for meetings, but reading – even to keep up with our professions – often drops to the “squeeze it in somewhere” category. Consider scheduling 30 minutes a day of dedicated reading time. Can’t manage one half-hour slot? If it’s something you plan for, you could break it into two 15-minute chunks. Stow the book in your briefcase or make sure it’s downloaded to your eReader. Experiment to see what works.

Do you have a favourite way of managing your TBR pile? Is there an app or computer program or maybe a filing system that works for you? Please share!

3. Balance topics. Are you reading for professional development or diversion – or maybe both? Make time for each. Feeding your spirit can be just as valuable as the latest journal article in your field. Or, if you’re like me, you’ll set out to read something “for fun” and find that it actually has relevance to your current course work literature review…

4. Curate excerpts. Sure, there are some books that require a start-to-finish reading strategy, but sometimes reading a single chapter can give us the information or tools we’re looking for. Some books are even designed this way. Make use of Introductions and Tables of Contents to find what’s relevant to you and just read that.

5. Turn to tech. How can tools you already use help with your TBR list? I routinely use my iPhone to read journal articles in those “gap” times — when I’m early for an appointment, waiting to catch the bus home or to pick up my son from an activity.

Next on my reading schedule:

Peripheral visions: Learning along the way by Mary Catherine Bateson (1995)

Recommendations from my recent reading (aka, my attempt to add to your TBR pile):

Invisible women: Data bias in a world designed for men by Caroline Criado Perez (2019)

Spark by Patricia Leavy (a novel that explores the challenges of designing and conducting research). (2019)

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown (2012)

What’s on your summer reading schedule?

A version of this post original appeared here in July 2014

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How to spend your summer not-vacation

There’s a different rhythm to summer at the medical school. Yes, this involves some vacation time, but it also involves getting many things done that get set aside during the university academic year.

For those involved in classroom-based teaching, the summer interval is an opportunity to review, reflect and revise teaching for the upcoming semesters. With this in mind, here’s my suggestion for tackling this task this summer:

A 4-R To-Do List for Summer 2019

1. Review

What you review will depend on your role in the UGME program. If you’re a course director, for example, re-read your course evaluation report, your own teaching evaluation report, and any notes you may have made through the year about how things went. Did the student curricular reps have any feedback for you during your course? Re-read these emails. Have a look to see if any of the MCC presentations assigned to your course may have changed (we update our list as the Council updates its presentations).

If you’re an instructor in a course, read through your notes on your learning events and your instructor evaluation report. Read through your teaching materials and your learning event pages on Elentra (our LMS, formerly called MEdTech).

Did you set aside any journal articles relevant to your field with a sticky-note saying “save for next year”? Now is the time to pull that out!

2. Reflect

Once you’ve reviewed relevant materials, think about your teaching. Did things go the way you wanted them to? Are there aspects of the past year that you’re really proud of and want to retain? Are there things that didn’t go as smoothly that you’d like to address next time? Are there things that went quite well, but you’d like to shake things up or experiment with something new? For anything that’s changed in your field, how might this impact your planning and teaching?

3. Revise

Decide what you’d like to change or address in next year’s teaching. Think about what’s manageable within the scope of your course or other responsibilities. Maybe you’ve seen some of the e-modules used in other courses and think one would fit with yours and make your teaching more effective. Maybe you’d like to enhance your existing cases to incorporate other curricular objectives assigned to your course. Maybe things are going pretty well, but you’d just like to shift things around a bit. Call me! I can help brainstorm and talk about timelines to set your plan in motion.

4. Relax

Many of us in medical education – and academia in general – have a lengthy summer to-do list that involves not only preparation for the next teaching cycle, but catching up on many other things, too. Sometimes that summer list can become overwhelming, so remember to take some time to relax and disconnect a bit from the “med ed” side of you: take some strolls along the lake, eat a popsicle or an ice cream cone. Do quintessential summer things that have nothing to do with any to-do list.

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The TRC Calls to Action require a personal response

The 94 Calls to Action from the historic Truth and Reconciliation Commission demand response and action from governments and institutions. Seven of these Calls to Action focus on Health and Healthcare issues. For those of us with the privilege to be involved in medical education, there is a particular focus on #23 and #24:

23. We call upon all levels of government to:

i. Increase the number of Aboriginal professionals working in the health-care field.

ii. Ensure the retention of Aboriginal health-care providers in Aboriginal communities.

iii. Provide cultural competency training for all healthcare professionals.

24. We call upon medical and nursing schools in Canada to require all students to take a course dealing with Aboriginal health issues, including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, and Indigenous teachings and practices. This will require skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism.

Yes, an institutional response is required and is underway and has been and will be written about here and elsewhere. (In particular, look for future Education Team posts about curricular and teaching responses). But the Calls to Action also require a personal, individual response and this is, in some ways, harder.

I’ve been wrestling with my own response. Here’s some of that…

* * *

Near the shore of Lake Ontario, Kingston. (Photo T. Suart, 2018)

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings exposed events long ignored in mainstream history curricula. I prided myself on being a student of history, of recognizing the foibles of historical records – the victor writes the books – and yet I found myself saying over and over again: “How did I not know this?” How was this never a part of the quaint lessons about Indians in my Grade 3 Reader, nor in the more sophisticated history books at King’s and Dal? How is it I could be so oblivious?

At the same time, I wanted to distance myself from any responsibility for these historical wrongs. For example: I’ve been at events where people introduce themselves with descriptors, such as their clan or First Nation affiliation, or, for people like me using the term “Settler”. I’ve always bristled at this. I don’t self-identify as a “Settler.” For me, “settler” implies agency, suggests choice. What choice did I have about where I was born? Extending this further, my pre-Confederation poor Acadian and Irish ancestors in rural New Brunswick likely weren’t concerned with much beyond day-to-day survival, and I’m sure were good people, so, they’re not responsible either. Right?

But I did have a choice when I moved to Kingston in 2006: when I moved to these traditional lands of a different nation. I don’t even know the historical relationship, if any, between the Wolastqiyik (the preferred name of the people I grew up knowing as Maliseet) and the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee. I never even thought about it vis-à-vis my discomfort with “settler”.

During his recent three-day visit to Queen’s, sponsored by the Faculty of Health Sciences, Dr. Barry Lavallee, a member of Manitoba First Nation and Métis communities, and a family physician specializing in Indigenous health and northern practice, pointed out that we can’t accept the status quo. We must consider who supports our ignorance and for what purpose. We are also responsible to recognize what phenomena support our own positions of privilege and power. And what to do with that power.

* * *

When I picked my Twitter handle in 2010, I wanted something unique – not @Theresa487 or something like that – and, wistfully, I wanted something that reminded me of home. I opted for the “original” Indigenous name of my New Brunswick hometown (the colonial-corrupted spelling, I later learned, but home nonetheless). So I became @Welamooktook. It reminded me of the place, the land, where I had roots, and family, and history.

But those same reasons I picked it became reasons to let it go. My original feelings and sentiments were sound, but I couldn’t escape the cultural appropriation, the feeling of wrongness it came to mean, as I reflected and wrestled with it.

* * *

A year ago, as part of an Education course I was taking, my classmates and I were encouraged to go to an exhibition of Kent Monkman’s artwork at the Agnes Etherington Art Gallery, Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience.

The entire installation was thought-provoking, emotional, and disturbing. One painting, in particular, haunted me: The Scream (2017). As I stood looking at this large painting depicting “the exact moment Indigenous children were taken from their parents”, I focused on three young people in the background, at the right, running away. Running away from the red-serge Mounties I had grown up looking up to. The trio running in the back are dressed in jeans and hoodies and look like teenagers I would see anywhere in Kingston.

They looked like my son.

This made it real for me. Made it close enough to touch. Close enough to imagine.

My son has a hoodie like that.

* * *

The TRC demands a response but that response is not guilt – or denial. It’s self-reflection. And compassion. And empathy. And action.

It’s relinquishing a cherished Twitter handle because it’s the right thing to do.

It’s stumbling through a territory acknowledgement because I’m still getting my Maritime tongue around Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee when Wolastqiyik is easier. And trying to go beyond the scripted suggestion to address relationships, and thoughts about land and people.

It’s accepting the self-descriptor “descendant of settlers” because that’s accurate and real and it matters.

It’s working with my physician colleagues to ensure sound curricular and clinical experiences that, as Dr. Lavelle described, gives our students “the ability to treat the person in front of them based on their experiences without judgment.”

It’s wrestling with getting all of these meandering ideas and feelings into words to share in this blog, because we all need to be part of this conversation — all the while worrying it’s arrogant or insulting or inadequate.

In his workshop, Dr. Lavallee urged us to use reflection to address our response to new information. And he challenged us: “When you feel the discomfort, move into it, because that’s where the learning occurs.” 

We tell our students to ask questions and then listen: Patients have the information and will share it. I learned the same in my previous career as a journalist. Ask questions, but most importantly listen to the answers. Even when the answer is uncomfortable, is difficult, is challenging. That’s the personal response.

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History of Medicine Tour of NYC

By Adam Gabara and Kelly Salman

The bus started to move, leaving the School of Medicine, and commencing our long excursion to New York City. With an upcoming Mechanisms of Disease test, stress levels were high, but the excitement of the trip overrode most of those worrisome feelings. After all, this was the annual History of Medicine trip to a city that some of us, including myself, will be seeing for the first time.

Driving over the Jersey bridge, seeing Manhattan in all of its concrete jungle glory, all I could think about was all the historical events that took place within this massive cityscape. It may have been my public health background coming out, but I imagined the immigrants arriving at Ellis Island to be screened and processed, infectious disease spreading rampant through the crowded streets and apartments, and rats carrying disease to food establishments. Nonetheless, this trip was going to provide a great learning opportunity not possible in the lecture halls back in Kingston.

Even though we arrived late at night, we all split up to explore the city. Some went to celebrate a classmate’s birthday, while others explored the famous Times Square, and enjoyed a late-night meal before heading back to the hotel. For some, it may be easy to forget the history engrained in a city as modern and metropolitan as NYC. Times Square has been a central hub for many decades and known for major landmarks such as the Broadway Theatre, and we tried to see as much as we could in the short time we had.

The next morning, after a nice breakfast at a small Lime stone café and a trek through Central park, the whole group rejoined at the docks to make our way around the Statue of Liberty and towards Ellis Island Immigrant Hospital. While on Ellis Island, we were able to explore the National Immigration Museum and learn of the courageous, and sometimes tragic, stories of immigrants from all over the world coming to America to start a better life.

Our guided tour of the abandoned immigration hospital was actually an enlightening reminder of   how far medicine has come. It also demonstrated how differently physicians approached immigrant health back then, keeping them segregated from the populace of New York on the basis of more than just symptoms of severe illness. Many of these immigrants came from countries in Europe, such as England, Ireland, and Germany, among others. This immigration hospital has been utilized for expectant mothers to give birth, for mental health screening, and for the treatment and quarantining of infectious diseases. The mental health screening, we learned, was based on what would now be considered archaic classifications of mental illness (idiocy, imbecile, moron, and feeble-minded). Immigrants were screened with math questions, and assessed further for behaviour and more questioning.

Saturday night was a huge bonding experience between the first and second years, as many of us attended an improv comedy act. We were able to mingle at the nearby bar, with special attention from the owner/bar tender, and to unwind after such a busy day. After the comedy, we all regrouped at a fancy top floor cocktail lounge overlooking Times Square. From here, we were able to take in the city and reflect not only on the history we learned so far, but the relationships being formed this weekend, and how important it is to take wellness break. Something we often forget in our busy lives with constant assignments, tests, research, and extra-curriculars (I was worrying about landing all the movements and vocals to Living on a Prayer for the QMed A Capella group).

The next day, we were able to see both the Museum of the City of New York and the New York Academy of Medicine. The museum, coincidentally, was displaying their main exhibit titled Germ City, a huge public health historical piece. This exhibit covered the history of various outbreaks in the city of New York and taught some of the basic science behind infectious diseases and their spread. At the academy, we were taken through a picturesque journey through various illustrated medical teaching texts including topics such as dermatology and obstetrics. It was surreal, looking at guides that medical learners would have been using many centuries ago to visualize pathologies and procedures that we ourselves will be learning on our laptops and medical texts in the year(s) to come.

And just like that, our journey was ending. We made our way back to the hotel for the long trek back home. This experience gave me much to think about, from all the medical tragedies and triumphs that occurred here, to seeing the profound impact medicine has had over hundreds of years, and how various modalities for medical instruction have changed over time. I will always think fondly of my first experience in New York, and I am reminded how lucky we are as medical students to have these opportunities to enhance our medical journey. Even on the ride back, whilst studying for the MOD midterm amongst my studious or sleeping colleagues, I realized we need to enjoy journey of medical schooland little things along the way. Like the unique experience of sitting next to a classical piano in a McDonald’s- now that’s something that will stick with me forever.

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