What do immersive simulations, filmmaking and emergency medicine have in common? One answer is Henry Curtis, MD, a Stanford clinical instructor in emergency medicine who's using innovative tools to educate medical students and residents about emergency medicine.
Curtis’s latest endeavor is a class called EMED 228: Emergency Video Production, which teaches students how to impact emergency care through film by “telling a story that matters.” I recently spoke with him about his use of filmmaking and simulation games.
Why do you use simulations and filmmaking as education tools?
Both simulation and filmmaking serve different purposes for emergency medicine education. Immersive simulation is an arena. It’s a place where learners can experience a medical emergency in a safe environment. They make medical decisions, perform procedures and communicate with the patient and their team. When it is all over, they reflect on what happened. Aside from real life clinical experience, there is no better educational technique.
Filmmaking imagines and documents life. Video based learning has many advantages, not the least of which is reproducibility —a final cut is independent of individual human factors that could affect quality on any given day. It is fascinating to bind the experiences unfolding in a simulated medical emergency with videos. For instance, engagement videos can function to more powerfully immerse the learner into a given clinical scenario. Information videos can relate valuable educational cues more effectively than a photo, announcement or text flashed on a screen. Video based debriefing allows playback of the important moments in a scenario.
What inspired you to create the EMED 228 course? What does it entail?
I’ve been pursuing a master of fine arts in directing for the last few years at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. I wanted to give back to Stanford and share the filmmaking skills I’ve acquired with students.
EMED 228 is open to undergrads, grads and medical students. We were fortunate to have a nice mix of students of all different educational interests and filmmaking experience enrolled. They were exposed to an overview of filmmaking. We began the first day with theory. The class then quickly progressed to understanding and implementing the practical aspects of creating a final product — using a robust array of equipment, including multiple high-definition DSLR cameras, GoPros, drones, remote focus pulling devices and gimbals.
The entire class culminated in a screening and Q&A session of the documentary that we created titled Care Flight in the Golden Hour. We aimed to provide insight into the process and people delivering care to critically ill patients in Lake Tahoe requiring air medical evacuation. These caregivers provide a service, which oftentimes will make the difference between life and death of healthy people who are having a tragic day. We chose to film on location in Truckee, Calif. Hannah Rasmussen, a first-year medical student, acted as a teaching assistant. Her efforts were invaluable in organizing our remote and on-site collaborations.
As a child, did you want to be a film director when you grew up?
I did not always know that I would be so drawn to the storytelling art of filmmaking or that I would prefer to be in the role of directing. I did know that I preferred film to photos when creating memories. In fact, I have many more short videos than photos in the memory closet. During the last year of my emergency medicine residency, I chose to concentrate on the use of film in disaster medicine education and this is where my filmmaking life really began.
Stanford University is a rich world of opportunity. It has encouraged me to chase my interests and carve out a niche in the medical humanities. The Department of Emergency Medicine is fully supportive of my journey. With such resources and encouragement offered at so many levels, I encourage everyone to seek out their passion in this environment.