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Day One of Medicine X | Ed: Understanding and equipping today’s medical learner

patient Dave on stageThe first day of Medicine X | Ed began with a suite of talks and technology demonstrations that focused on understanding and equipping today’s medical learner. The first grouping of talks, themed "meet the millennial learner," explored how medical students learn and how technology and social media present new opportunities and challenges for these students.

Joseph Santini, PhD, kicked off the first set of presentations by discussing information barriers that disabled students, and patients, face. Santini gave his presentation in sign language, with subtitles and an interpreter so everyone could understand what he wanted to say. Unfortunately, he explained, these modes of communication aren't always available for disabled students.

Many deaf medical students — and physicians — must pay for their own interpreters, he explained. This financial burden dissuades many deaf people from pursuing or remaining in the field of medicine. The recent shift from text-based communication to more audio and visual systems is also a challenge, Santini said. “Have you ever tried to watch videos on YouTube with automatic captioning?" he asked. We call it a crap shoot... The text is a jumble. Advances in these areas would be key.”

Speaker Dreuv Khullar, MD, a resident physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, highlighted another challenge that medical learners face: A lack of time.

Khullar recounted a story from medical school. He was sitting with a critically ill patient when his pager buzzed. He wanted to stay with the patient, but he had eight more patients to see, and he was already late. He vowed to spend extra time with with patient the next day, but the patient died that night.

“It turns out that the most draining aspect of medical school is not the hours, it’s that you cannot be there for patients the way you thought you would be,” Khullar said. “I think of the countless opportunities for compassion that I squander for things that are less important... I think that next time [this happens] I will sit.”

The next set of talks addressed the medical learners' needs from the perspective of their teachers. Dave deBronkart (aka "e-patient Dave") and Charles Prober, MD, senior associate dean of medical education at Stanford, gave talks that emphasized how technological innovations can help medical students learn and interact with patients better.

deBronkart explained why it's important to teach doctors to talk to patients by showing a slide with an image of a paved path curving lazily through a park versus "the patient's dream," a dirt path that cuts straight across the forest. "You don’t design a thing and then ask the patients for their opinion," he said gesturing to the drawing of the paved path. "You must consult the patient first to see what they need.”

Interacting with e-patients can be difficult at times, deBronkart conceded. He likened it to online dating saying, “There are some idiots online, and there’s some gold online. I found my wife online on, but before I met her there were some suboptimal search results.”

Prober talked about ways to convey information to medical students by discussing the concept of lecture halls without lectures. Traditional lectures are a poor way to convey information, he said. Instead, he recommends embedding key pieces of information in memorable interactions and stories: "The better way to make things stick is to have interaction, not a sage on the stage."

Outside Plenary Hall a collection of "tech demos" showed off some the some technological innovations that can help equip medical students with the tools they need to learn and practice medicine in the digital age.

One such medical innovator is Anuradha "Anu" Khanna, MD, a professor of ophthalmology at Loyola Medicine who won her school's teacher of the year award multiple times. “Courses related to ophthalmology are elective," she told me.  "A lot of students get only a few hours of ophthalmology training in their career. This is a disservice to our patients."

So, Khanna created an interactive app, called EyeSim, that helps medical students learn about the eye quickly. The app features a virtual patient, lessons on eye anatomy and many other features that students can use throughout their medical training. "It gives the medical student more opportunities to engage in a patient-like interaction early on," Khanna said.

More news about the conference is available in the Medicine X category. Those unable to attend the event in person can watch via webcast; registration for the Global Access Program webcast is free. We’ll also be live tweeting the keynotes and other proceedings from the conference; you can follow our tweets on the @StanfordMed feed.

Photo of Dave deBronkart courtesy of Stanford Medicine X

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