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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

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