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Medical Education, Medical Schools, Medicine and Society, Stanford Medicine Unplugged

Does medical school unfairly glamorize the medical profession?

Does medical school unfairly glamorize the medical profession?

Stanford Medicine Unplugged (formerly SMS Unplugged) is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week during the academic year; the entire blog series can be found in the Stanford Medicine Unplugged category.

discovery walkAny Stanford student knows all too well that the immense campus, with its seemingly eternal sunshine and endless rows of palm trees, can make it difficult to want to get outside and experience the real world. When it comes to medical education, this creates a very real concern: Is it possible to experience the full diversity of our health-care system when you are living in the so-called “Stanford bubble” – an idyllic college campus in one of the wealthiest counties in the United States?

I’ve certainly felt the effects of the Stanford bubble, but interestingly, working with a diverse population of patients has not been my primary challenge. Stanford has a wide net of connections with the Peninsula region and larger Bay Area – from clinics serving the urban underserved in East Palo Alto to flu vaccination programs reaching a rural population in the Central Valley farmlands. Those experiences are widely accessible to anybody who seeks them out.

No, my problem with the Stanford bubble is not about the patients – but rather the doctors. Doctors are known for being overworked and stressed, right? It certainly doesn’t seem that way in our bubble, where speaking with our outstanding pre-clinical faculty about their careers brings inspiring stories of cutting-edge research achievements, clinics filled with fulfilling cases and grateful patients and many years of training bright up-and-coming doctors. On the contrary, my faculty mentors speak highly of the balance they’ve found in their professional lives – clinic one day, research the next and teaching in between.

But is this really representative of the real world? When you step outside the realm of “academic medicine,” the picture seems to change considerably. It’s not a secret that, among physicians nationwide, burnout is widespread and pervasive – afflicting 46 percent of doctors in a recent study. Burnout was defined as “emotional exhaustion, depersonalization and low personal accomplishment.” To be honest, I can’t say that I’ve ever observed anything like that in my pre-clinical years, let alone in 46 percent of our faculty. As pre-clinical medical students, burnout is something that we hear about constantly, but witness never, allowing us to convince ourselves that it’s just some abstract idea that doesn’t apply to us.

I’m constantly inspired by my teachers and mentors here at Stanford. I will consider myself incredibly fortunate if I manage to step into their shoes at some point in my career. But part of me that wonders if we’re really seeing the full picture as pre-clinical students. We’re being shielded from the “front lines” – the thousands and thousands of primary care doctors who work tirelessly under the strains that our health-care system imposes on private practice physicians. Are we being set up for an unpleasant surprise later on? How can we possibly avoid being part of the 46 percent if we don’t have a good awareness that it exists? Perhaps it’s time to start bringing these questions into the medical school bubble.

Nathaniel Fleming is a second-year medical student and a native Oregonian. His interests include health policy and clinical research. 

Photo by Norbert von der Groeben

Medical Education, Medical Schools, Medicine and Literature, Stanford News

Tiger mother, tiger cub: A Stanford doctor reflects on his upbringing

Tiger mother, tiger cub: A Stanford doctor reflects on his upbringing

Tiger Child Pic JAMA PedsWhen Amy Chua’s book, “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” was published in 2011, Jason Nagata, MD, was in medical school at the University of California, San Francisco. He caught on to the humor (which escaped some of the book’s reviewers), and the anecdotes resonated with him – reminding him of his own strict and intense upbringing. “It was very funny and very controversial,” he said. “A lot of that book stuck with me from the child’s perspective.” He started to share some of those memories with people around him and found that his fellow med school students had similar stories, too. He wrote about his experiences as a “tiger child” in a funny and touching essay (subscription required) published online today in JAMA Pediatrics.

When I connected with Nagata, we spoke over Skype because he was working in Ecuador as part of his global health residency. He noted that despite the negative press Chua’s book received, he believes that strict childhood training helped prepare him for medical school. “The tiger mentality is prevalent throughout medicine,” he said. “It was intense as a child, but it prepared me well for medical training – the hours and the intensity.”

But Nagata had to learn the hard way to make room in his schedule for rest. After a particularly intense time during medical school, he developed an ulcer that landed him in the hospital. His recovery took more than a month. He explored writing as a way to reflect and think through his experiences as a student and later as a doctor. When he came to Stanford, he attended the Medicine and the Muse writing workshops to hone his writing chops. His current essay is just the latest in a series.

Although he makes time for rest, he still has plenty of drive and intensity. He mentioned that he was planning a trip to the Galápagos Islands and to hike Mount Chimborazo, the highest mountain in Ecuador, the weekend after we spoke. After he completes his residency at Stanford, he’ll start a three year fellowship in adolescent and young adult health in July 2016.

Nagata describes his own mother’s unusual path from NICU nurse to graduate student in chaplaincy. “She exemplified the tiger mom and probably works even harder than I do,” he said. “I got a lot of my habits from her.” She doesn’t demand as much from Nagata these days, but her Tiger mom spark isn’t completely gone. When he told his mother about the upcoming essay, she quipped that she was planning to write a rebuttal to JAMA Pediatrics “in her own tiger mother vein,” he said.

Previously: For group of Stanford doctors, writing helps them “make sense” of their experiences
Photo of Jason Nagata as child, courtesy of Jason Nagata

Media, Medical Education, Medical Schools, Medicine X, Technology

Integrating digital literacy into medical education

Integrating digital literacy into medical education

21474271319_dc2d63f449_zBertalan Mesko, MD, PhD, has cracked the code on convincing medical students that digital literacy skills are equally as important as clinical knowledge. Seats in his Social MEDia course fill up within 45 seconds of registration opening. Former students report a 100 percent satisfaction rate with the class, and 80 percent of those enrolling in the course heard about it from a classmate. How does Mesko do it? As it turns out: daily educational challenges promoted on Facebook, an arsenal of high-tech gadgets and lots of chocolate.

On Thursday at Stanford Medicine X|ED, Mesko shared his secrets with medical educators on how to develop a digital literacy curriculum that will engage millennial learners and keep pace with the ever-changing landscape.

A self-describe medical futurist, Mesko launched his class on social media in medicine in 2008 when Facebook and Twitter were still in their infancy. “I wanted to design the curriculum for students to prepare them for the future that is coming toward us,” he said. “My goal was to help them understand how to use these tools to be more productive and stay up to-date.”

Early on, the curriculum centered on his experience with social media tools, such as blogging, Twitter and Facebook. But as the field of digital media and medical devices has evolved, so has the class. These days, he’s constantly updating the coursework to the point where he never gives the same lecture twice. “Platforms come and go, but it’s the concepts and practices that really matter,” said Mesko, who teaches at Semmelweis University in Hungary. “Whenever I talk about these topics, I do everything live.”

Most students have been active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other social media accounts, long before they enroll in Mesko’s class. However, he still believes it’s important to provide an introduction to social media; discuss search engines and the Google story; and provide instruction on medical blogging, crowdsourcing and mobile health.

“Students need some fundamental digital knowledge before diving into the topics of e-patients and how to empower patients,” said Mesko, author of the recently released book My Health: Upgraded . “Additionally, many students don’t fully understand the privacy polices of these services. I tell them to remember that there is no difference between offline or online conduct.”

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Events, Medical Education, Medical Schools, Medicine X, Patient Care

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

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.”

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Medical Education, Medical Schools, Sports, Surgery

Applying athletic and musical coaching techniques to surgical training

Applying athletic and musical coaching techniques to surgical training

5866567170_aa28901818_zPerforming in a harmonious group is a key characteristic in the success of athletes, musicians and surgeons. With this in mind, physicians at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston worked with members of the Choral Arts Society of Washington D.C. and the U.S. National Rowing Team to develop a new coaching model for training surgeons that draws on strategies from the musical and sports world.

Findings (subscription required) from the study were recently published in a special edition of the journal Surgical Clinics of North America. A release offers more details about the training approach:

It has been shown that deliberate practice is crucial to expert performance. Deliberate practice, which entails setting a well-defined goal, being motivated to improve and having ample opportunities for practice and refinement of performance through structured feedback, is a hallmark of this model.

The model also employs a coaching team that is well rehearsed in the day’s training procedure and is in constant communication so that trainees receive immediate correction when needed.

“Coaching teams not only are more efficient at communicating but also have been shown to make fewer mistakes in high-risk and high-intensity work environments, compared with individuals,” said [Kimberly Brown, MD, associate professor of surgery at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.] “This fact is of greater relevance when performance requires multiple skills, judgments and experiences.”

Brown said that when all of the coaches and learners are actively engaged throughout the training session, the other team members also contribute more to their highest capacity. This leads to a multiplying effect on the team as a whole, resulting in a team’s best possible performance.

Previously: Spanish-speaking families prefer surgical care in their native language, study finds, Clementines help surgeons-in-training to practice and Surgical checklists and teamwork can save lives
Photo by Army Medicine

Medical Education, Medical Schools

Using “spaced repetition” and other learning strategies to better retain medical school knowledge

Using "spaced repetition" and other learning strategies to better retain medical school knowledge

8747269303_eb647f98e2_zMany have described the medical school experience as “drinking from a firehose” of knowledge. Over on the Wing of Zock, radiology resident Peter Wei, MD, and MD/PhD student Alex Chamessian explain how they leveraged psychological research to develop new study techniques and better retain information as medical students.

To break the cycle of learning and quickly forgetting, they began using a technique known as “spaced repetition,” where material is regularly reviewed according to set schedule. They write:

At first, a newly learned fact is reviewed often; as time goes on, and the memory becomes deeply ingrained, it diminishes. In that way, you only have to study each fact exactly when the program predicts you’re likely to forget it – an enormous time savings. While cramming can buy you some short-term learning, if you want to retain information from medical school into clinical practice, spaced repetition is the way to go.

So, with this knowledge in hand, we and some of our classmates started using free, open-source flashcard apps, such as Anki and Mnemnosyne, which incorporate spaced repetition. Our understanding of the psychological literature also taught us the best practices for studying, and what sorts of resources to use for each course.

We talked with our classmates, who adopted parts of this methodology for themselves and offered useful suggestions to streamline it further. Pretty soon our class was teaching these techniques to the incoming first years, and a year later, that class started reaching out to the new incoming first years. And sure enough, many of us did very well on the USMLE step exams and found that had a firm grasp of clinical knowledge once we hit the wards; our studying yielded much better results than we could have expected otherwise.

In an effort to help other medical students learn more efficiently, Wei and Chamessian wrote the book “Learning Medicine, an Evidence-Based Guide” detailing the spaced repetition method and other learning strategies.

At Stanford, educators developed a new online learning initiative to re-imagine medical education using the “flipped classroom” model. The Stanford Medicine Interactive Learning Initiatives aims to make better use of the fixed amount of educational time available to train doctors and help students learn more efficiently.

Previously: Using the “flipped classroom” model to bring medical education into the 21st century, Flip it up: How the flipped classroom boosts faculty interest in teaching and A closer look at using the “flipped classroom” model at the School of Medicine
Photo by EdTech Stanford University School of Medicine

Medical Education, Medical Schools, Stanford News

Passing the boards: Reassessing “Step 1 madness”

Passing the boards: Reassessing "Step 1 madness"

medical booksCharles Prober, MD, senior associate dean of medical education at Stanford, has long been concerned about the misuse of Step 1. The national standardized test, which must be passed in order to get a medical license, is also often used inappropriately, according to Prober, as a screening tool by residency programs.

But his concern about the test — dubbed “Step 1 madness” by some med students and the first of three required for medical licensure — extends even further to what he and others believe are the unnecessary and sometimes detrimental effects on both the education of medical students and their stress levels.

In a commentary published this week in the journal Academic Medicine, Prober and his co-authors — which includes the president of the National Board of Medical Examiners, the non-profit that develops and manages the test — issue a “plea to reassess” its role in residency selection. They write:

There is an increasingly pervasive practice of using the score, especially the Step
1 component, to screen applicants for residency. This is despite the fact that the test was not designed to be a primary determinant of the likelihood of success in residency… [I]t is disconcerting that the test preoccupies so much of our students attention with attendant substantial costs (in time and money) and mental and emotional anguish.

Prober and his colleagues go on to explain how students sequester themselves for four to nine weeks on average studying full-time for the day-long multiple-choice examination, which is usually taken sometime following their second year of medical school. The stress to pass the test, which is designed to test  “important concepts of the sciences basic to the practice of medicine,” is particularly high because students know a poor score may keep them from qualifying for the first step to get into a residency program — the interview:

Despite its intended purpose, many residency program directors continue to use applicants’ USMLE Step 1 scores as a sole or primary filter for selecting candidates to interview… In general, the more competitive the residency discipline (e.g. orthopedic surgery, radiation oncology, dermatology, ophthalmology, and otolaryngology,) the higher the Step 1 score needed to pass through the filter.

The authors express the opinion that it is “ill advised” to use the test for a purpose for which it was not developed, that the test is not a good predictor of who will do well in residency and that it is being misused for “convenience” as a easy to apply mechanism to reduce large applicant pools. Their solution isn’t to get rid of the test, which is still a valuable tool, but to create additional measurement tools of equally important skills for selection by residency programs.

“A more rational approach to selecting among residency applicants would give greater attention to other important qualities, such as clinical reasoning, patient care, professionalism, and ability to function as a member of a health
care team,” they conclude.

Previously: Using the flipped classroom model to bring medical education into the 21st-century and Student transitions in medicine: putting blinders on
Photo by jcalyst

Medical Education, Medical Schools, Palliative Care, Patient Care, Stanford Medicine Unplugged

When Mr. Bailey passed away: A student’s story

When Mr. Bailey passed away: A student's story

SMS (“Stanford Medical School”) Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week; the entire blog series can be found in the SMS Unplugged categoryCertain details in this entry have been omitted or changed, and all names have been altered to protect the identity of those involved.

387521264_d1cd33d574_zBrief life update, since it’s been more than 3 months since I’ve last posted on SMS Unplugged:

  • I disappeared for most of April through the end of May to study for and take Step 1, which – for anyone who hasn’t heard of this test – is a pretty brutal, not to mention expensive (~$590!! One of many reasons why med students are poor), 8-hour exam that tests broad concepts of medicine (biochem, immunology, organ systems, etc.) and is widely heralded one of the most important tests for residency admission.
  • I started clerkships at the end of June, with my first clerkship being in internal medicine. The rest of this entry describes one of the most poignant experiences from my first month and a half on rotations.

It was just another call day, when all of a sudden, an overhead announcement rang through the ward: “Code Blue, respond to Room 281. Repeat – Code Blue, respond to Room 281.” Instantly, the atmosphere in our team room turned serious: We knew it was one of our patients, Mr. Bailey, there. As a group, we sprinted towards Room 281. Disorganized, panicked thoughts were running through my head – oh-my-god-what-happened-to-our-patient, thank-goodness-I’m-wearing-sneakers-and-scrubs-today-there’s-no-way-I-could-run-like-this-in-flats, oh-my-god-what-happened-to-our-patient, oh-my-god.

When we got to the room, there were at least 8 people there already, with more trickling in. Our patient was covered in wires, IV lines, a face mask for oxygen. My resident stepped up to the bed and began telling everyone else about our patient’s past medical history, what we were treating him for, how his clinical course had been. I stood in the back, with the single-minded goal of keeping out of everyone’s way. For the next several minutes, at least a dozen people worked to bring Mr. Bailey back to life – and when I left the room, they had succeeded.

I walked back to the team room in a bit of a haze, the relief beginning to course through me, mixed in with remaining vestiges of adrenaline. I had only met Mr. Bailey once before, as he was primarily being followed by another member of my team. From our daily morning rounds, however, I knew he was incredibly sick. We estimated that he only had a few months left. When I met him that one time, it was so clear to see that he was struggling, to breathe, to keep his state of mind. Still, I thought it would be months, not days before he passed away.

The morning after the code, I came into the hospital at the usual time, pre-rounded on my own patients, and headed back to the team room to prep my presentation and notes for rounds. As I walked back to the team room, I ran into another team member, who asked me, “Did you hear about Mr. Bailey?” “No,” I said. “He died last night.”

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Events, Medical Education, Medical Schools, Stanford News

Aspiring young doctors learn the ropes during Stanford summer program

Aspiring young doctors learn the ropes during Stanford summer program

CSI participants - 560

Deep in the basement laboratory of Stanford’s Falk Cardiovascular Research Center, 31 high-school and college students stood in awed silence as surgeon Paul Chang, MD, demonstrated on the room’s large screen how to dissect a pig’s heart. After a moment of watching him point out the valves, atria, ventricles and arteries of the organ, students excitedly grabbed the surgical tools in front of them and began their work.

“This is so cool,” exclaimed Daria Arzy, a student at Harvard-Westlake High School in Los Angeles. “I’m more of a hands-on person, so I really enjoy this kind of thing.”

Heart dissection is just one sliver of the Stanford Medicine Clinical Summer Internship, a new program by the Division of General Medical Disciplines that was designed to provide a diverse group of students with an up-close and personal look at the field of medicine.

Department of Medicine Chair Bob Harrington, MD, greeted the participants on their first day and encouraged them to enjoy their time on the Stanford campus. “This is an amazing place,” he shared. “I’m still excited to come to work each day.”

Throughout the course of the two-week program, students learned the foundations of patient care, including how to take a patient’s medical history and vital signs, how to perform a physical exam, and how to administer ultrasounds and injections; practiced surgical techniques; and heard from cardiologists, neurologists, and other experts. “We encountered so many different perspectives,” said Kathy Zhang, a premed student at Vanderbilt University. “It was wonderful to meet medical professionals from different backgrounds and career pursuits.”

The students also had the opportunity to travel to the roof of Stanford Hospital to tour the school’s 50-foot Life Flight helicopter and to visit Stanford’s Center for Immersive and Simulation-based Learning, where they learned how to manage and treat infectious diseases.

During a guest lecture, Chloe Chien, MD, a Stanford medical student graduate and the COO of Homemade, a social healthy cooking program, shared her journey from medical student to startup co-founder. “When I was training to become a surgeon, I suddenly realized that I wanted to help prevent and heal lifestyle diseases like obesity and diabetes,” she said. “So I spoke to patients with chronic diseases to better understand what they were going through.” Chien later engaged the students in a lively discussion about the barriers to healthy lifestyle change, and offered three principles for healthy living: “Cook your own food, listen to your body, and eat whole, natural ingredients.”

On the final day, program organizers handed out certificates and offered their closing remarks to the group: “6 hours in the Stanford anatomy lab, 20 injected oranges, and 31 dissected sheep brains and pig hearts. By any numerical measure, this week has been impressive,” said Program Manager Misty Mazzara. “But this week was never about numbers.  It was about bringing bright young students together to introduce them to the practice of medicine.” Eva Weinlander, MD, who co-organized the internship with Sarita Khemani, MD, agreed, adding: “We have been lucky to spend time with all of you. You’ve all been so enthusiastic, professional, and supportive of each other during this journey.”

As the ceremony came to a close, participants lingered in the auditorium — hugging, taking photos, and exchanging contact information. One student echoed the sentiments of many when she yelled: “Don’t worry everyone, I’m coming back next year!”

Lindsey Baker is the communications manager for Stanford’s Department of Medicine. More photos from the internship program can be found on this Flickr page.

Previously: What’s it like to be an internal medicine resident at Stanford?At Stanford Cardiovascular Institute’s annual retreat, a glimpse into the future of cardiovascular medicine and A look at one high-school student’s summer internship experience at Stanford
Photo by Lindsey Baker

Global Health, HIV/AIDS, Medical Education, Medical Schools, Stanford News

Stanford med student chronicles his experience working in rural Kenya

Stanford med student chronicles his experience working in rural Kenya

Hodgkinson and others in Kenya

Growing up in Kakamega, a rural county in western Kenya, medical technologies and services were extremely limited for Luqman Hodgkinson, PhD. Now a first-year Stanford medical student, Hodgkinson is spending the summer months back in his hometown conducting research and chronicling exciting new developments in medical education – the opening of the first medical school in the region.

With a population of nearly two million, Kakamega is the second largest county in Kenya behind only Nairobi. But with only 12 physician specialists, the vast majority of residents don’t have access to advanced care.

Earlier this year, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST), a leading public university in Kenya, received authorization to become the very first medical school in Kakamega; it’s expected to enroll its first class of students this fall.

Hodgkinson has received a faculty position as an adjunct associate researcher at the new MMUST School of Medicine and will serve as the designated ambassador from MMUST to Stanford.

As Hodgkinson writes in his first blog entry en route to Kakamega, “Relationships are very important in medicine and this is also true for a medical school that is at the beginning of a bright future.”

His first research project in Kakamega focuses on the efficacy of community outreach programs designed to improve adherence to antiretroviral medications among adults with HIV/AIDS. Under the mentorship of Michele Barry, MD, FACP, senior associate dean for global health at Stanford, Hodgkinson is working with Emusanda Health Centre to evaluate the efficacy of these programs and demographic factors that may impact medication adherence.

He writes in his blog: “Medical research of all kinds is greatly needed in Kakamega to advance the health of the community, particularly in the area of HIV. In Kakamega County, the HIV prevalence is 5.6 percent. Addressing the local HIV pandemic is what inspired me many years ago to pursue medicine and now for the first time I am on my way to join this endeavor.”

Hodgkinson will be blogging from Kakamega throughout the summer, sharing updates from his research activities and collaborative opportunities for members of the Stanford community to get involved with the new MMUST School of Medicine. Follow along on the Center for Innovation in Global Health website.

Rachel Leslie is the communications officer at Stanford’s Center for Innovation in Global Health.

Photo – of (left to right) clinician Jorcelyne Makori, peer educator James Okwiri and Hodgkinson – courtesy of Hodgkinson

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