Five things attending a gaming expo reinforced about medical education

It’s March Break in much of Ontario – including for UGME students and faculty at Queen’s School of Medicine – so I found myself at “EGLX” in Toronto with my 13-year-old son. Billed as “Canada’s Largest Video Game Expo” the three-day extravaganza included virtual reality, cosplay, exhibitors, panels, artists, a giant Nerf battle, and various and sundry gaming competitions. Given that the height of my gaming career was “VICman” (a Pac-Man knock-off by Commodore back in the early 1980s) and playing a mean game of Tetris (so, translation: Worst. Gamer. Ever.), this is perhaps one of the last places anyone would expect to find me. However: moms do stuff. (Dads do, too. My husband valiantly went to TWO days of it). In this and other unfamiliar territory, medical education is rarely far from my mind. Here are five things the expo reinforced about Med Ed:

  1. Be open to new experiences

VR is cool, but the set-up takes some getting used to for it to work well.

This one works for both teachers and students. Whether it’s tackling a new subject or trying out a different teaching or assessment method, it can pay off to be brave and just dive right in. While I’m not a gaming convert, EGLX gave me a new view to some of my son’s interests and showed the breadth of the industry. When we do the same thing over and over again, we can get trapped in our own “bubble” of experiences and not realize what else is out there. There’s value in new perspectives.

  1. Learning works in multiple directions

I’m used to being in the role of educator – both as a parent and at work, where I’m mostly behind the scenes in the planning stages. It’s important to remember that learning isn’t mono-directional. At the expo, I was the rookie, and my kid the mentor. (And my husband, the trade-show veteran, was the navigator). In medical education, learning comes from our faculty, our students, allied health professionals, our patients and their families.

  1. Technology is cool

More pedaling = more power

What starts as games can turn into tools and vice versa. Some of the virtual reality stuff at the expo was pretty cool (fly like Superman, anyone?) and, for parents, the cycle-to-power-the-game stuff never gets old. (Just when am I going to be able to buy one?). Likewise in the classroom and clinics – what’s the next good thing to enhance learning?

  1. Celebrate accomplishments

One whole segment of the expo featured projects by students at Sheridan College. While this, of course, served to promote the programs at the college, it also gave students well-deserved recognition for hundreds (thousands) of hours of work, problem-solving, and creativity. Sometimes the accomplishments of our students and faculty become routine to us – we need to take time to showcase and celebrate the great things we’re doing.

  1. If something doesn’t work the first time, try something else.

My son wanted to meet some of the YouTube gaming celebrities. (Yeah, I learned this is a thing). Our first day there, we were waiting in a very long line that was moving about one person every five or six minutes. I counted those ahead of us, did some math and figured we’d be there for about 2.5 hours before we hit the front of the line. We ditched the line and went to an awesome ribs place for supper instead. The next day, my son and husband went to one of the YouTube gamer panels, left strategically early, and landed second in line. Likewise in Med Ed, sometimes we introduce innovations and don’t get them quite right. We need to step back, figure out what went wrong, and go at it a different way.

Next week: Five things about medical education reinforced by the multiple shoe stores at the Vaughan Mills Mall. (Just kidding…. Maybe).

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Five ways being a Geneticist helped me improve my teaching skills

By Andrea Guerin, Year 2 Director and Clinical Geneticist

Dr. Andrea Guerin

When growing up, the career choices offered are often dichotomous, do you want to be a lawyer or a firefighter, nurse or entrepreneur, doctor or teacher? In reality, most jobs are a blend of a few different skills. In medicine, doctors can be scientists, can run a business, and for most of us, being a teacher is a large part of our job. At first blush, being a Geneticist and a teacher doesn’t seem to have much in common, but my training in Medical Genetics has significantly influenced my role in education. Here are five examples I’d like to share:

  1. Words matter

Geneticists are wordsmiths. Language is very highly selected, “cause” not “reason”, “typical” not “normal” and “chance” not “risk”. The language I use with my patients is specific and inclusive, positive and hopefully, precise. Words are important, to convey meaning without an agenda, to educate without prejudice. I use the same thought in the classroom. I am mindful of the implicit biases that can be drawn from words. Words are powerful and their power needs to be recognized and headed.

Medicine is learning a new language. So is education. I’m not going to lie, I had never designed a small group session before coming to Queen’s and I certainly did not know what a Directed Independent Learning event was. When I came, I was disoriented, DILs, SGLs, RATs, GTAs. The terminology was overwhelming. But, like learning the language of medicine, I learnt the language of education too. We’ve added a few more in the past year in undergraduate medical education CBME, EPA, with only more to come.

  1. Technology is forever changing, but good ideas stand the test of time

When I started my residency 10 years ago the understanding of genetic testing was very different. Many tests were not available. Testing was laborious, going from gene to gene, with months of anxious anticipation in between. Now, a decade later, I can order a test that looks at all the necessary genes of the body that have a purpose. Results can be available more quickly. Interpretation is more of a challenge, as we learn more, it becomes more evident the gaps in our knowledge and tying findings to patient symptoms can be a challenge. The concept of having parents and environment contributing to the health of the child is an old one, with influences from Ancient Greece to India. This testing is a reinvention of an old idea — we have only identified the individual factors (genes) that support what has been seen for thousands of years.

When I went to medical school, problem based learning was new. Powerpoint was a staple of lectures. There were almost no laptops. We would never have thought to work in groups while in the same classroom. That was an activity reserved for afternoon sessions, segregated into rooms under the watchful eye of a faculty facilitator. Marks were given from formal assessments, not team assignments or readiness assessment tests. That’s not to say assessments were not happening, they were just less formalized. It was a gut feeling. Did the clinical skills tutor think you were professional? Did the small group facilitator see that you participated? Now, assessments, both summative and formative are happening all the time. The actual process has become more concrete and transparent, but the idea has not changed.

  1. It’s all developmental

Genetics is  one of only a few specialties where the patient population spans from before cradle to grave. When I see a patient with a concern, I endeavour to find out when it started. An understanding of development, both physical and emotional, is key to my practice. You must walk, before you run.

Education is no different. The expectation must be adjusted to where the student is in their education journey. It’s okay to not know the differential in the first year, but in fourth year, students must be equipped with the knowledge and expertise to generate a differential and initiate management. Expectations need to match where the learner is, just like my patients.

  1. No person is an island

Genetics is a team sport. In clinic, amongst clinician and researchers spanning the province, country or world, we work together to solve diagnostic mysteries and provide good patient care.

Education is the same. Teachers, admin support, education support, technical support and student support and feedback are essential to the teaching process. Behind every teacher, there is a team supporting them in their journey.

  1. Comfortable with the uncomfortable concept of unknowns

After years of education, I will never be done learning. There is always more to learn, and no physician, despite years of practice and experience knows everything. When I counsel patients I always raise the possibility of an unknown. A confusing result, a question left unanswered. There is no crystal ball.

Education continues to surprise me, but I am open to the concept of something new, unknown. Can we produce excellent physicians using different teaching methods? Of course we can. Each of my colleagues had different curricula, different forms of instruction. There is more than one way to teach — the “best way” is still unknown.

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