My “Beginner’s Guide” to the messy world of medical education over at Wonkhe.
N.Y.U. said that it had raised more than $450 million of the $600 million that it anticipates will be necessary to finance the tuition plan. About $100 million of that has been contributed by Kenneth G. Langone, the founder of Home Depot, and his wife, Elaine, for whom the medical school is named.
To date, only a handful of institutions have tried to make medical education tuition-free, according to Julie Fresne, senior director of student financial services of the Association of American Medical Colleges, a nonprofit organization that represents medical schools.
Those who rent seek on biomedical knowledge wish to seek to define the norms of what is foundational. What is foundational for the practice of medicine should be contested more. Anatomy for surgeons is an easy case to make. But for most non-surgeons, the case for much anatomy is far from simple.
In any historical account of the ascent of modern medicine, Versalius looms large. But this Nature article (Sex, religion and a towering treatise on anatomy) intrigues me for a not so obvious reason: the counterpoint between how such knowledge was represented and understood.
Even Vesalius realized that his images could be confusing, and devised an ingenious method to explain them. A letter or number was printed onto the image of each body part, with a separate key. Unfortunately, the characters were often too small to pick out against the swirling background….
Faced by such challenges, many medics might have given up on the images. Indeed, when we reconstructed what early modern readers and scholars found fascinating about the Fabrica, it was evidently the text. The clear majority of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century readers who annotated the book focused on that and left no traces of having engaged with the illustrations. Sixteenth-century reviews of the Fabrica confirm this impression, because they tended to discuss only the text.
This is no surprise. The Fabrica’s scholarly readership was trained in the traditions of Renaissance humanism, which put a strong emphasis on textual analysis. Even if they found it difficult to interpret visual information, medical practitioners were expert at making sense of long Latin texts.
Here are the figures for skincancer909 my online textbook of skin cancer for medical students. The site was rewritten and updated in the final quarter of last year (with videos). Usage is 80% from search, with the rest from direct links. In June about 4,600 sessions. Local usage (Edinburgh) is around 5%. I am pleased, but financially poorer.
A revered teacher, Seldin was known for his pithy expressions, including: “A good medical education leaves much to be desired”; “One of the dangers of a medical education is that it leads to graduation from medical school”; and “The greatest crime is to do the right thing for the wrong reason.”
An obit of Donald W Seldin – The Lancet. I do not know the source of my favourite cognate aphorism:
most students turn into good doctors despite the earnest attempts of medical educationalists
I posted this awhile back, but it still makes me smile. I wrote:
Well my knowledge of Neanderthals is rather limited to the work showing that some of them would likely had red hair. But now a reviewer (Clive Gamble) in Nature of a book on Neanderthals states that
Wynn and Coolidge conclude that today, Neanderthals would be commercial fishermen or mechanics, based on their enormous strength and ability to learn the motor procedures needed. Their capacity for empathy might even have made them competent physicians, the authors say, although a lack of mathematical ability means that they would never have been able to graduate from medical school. Neanderthals would also make excellent army grunts, with their high levels of pain tolerance, and would be good tacticians in small combat units. They would never rewrite the tactical manual — although tearing it up, however thick, would not be a problem.
“It’s quite obvious that we should stop training radiologists,” said Geoffrey Hinton, an AI luminary, in 2016. In November Andrew Ng, another superstar researcher, when discussing AI’s ability to diagnose pneumonia from chest X-rays, wondered whether “radiologists should be worried about their jobs”. Given how widely applicable machine learning seems to be, such pronouncements are bound to alarm white-collar workers, from engineers to lawyers.
The Economist’s view is (rightly) more nuanced than Hinton’s statement on this topic might suggest, but this is real. For my own branch of clinical medicine, too. The interesting thing for those concerned with medical education is whether we will see the equivalent of the Osborne effect (and I don’t mean that Osborne effect).
Discussing the shortage of GPs, a locus GP writes:
As so often, there are several factors. Many GPs have retired early – the causes are often quoted as falling GP work earnings, disenchantment with CCGs, the CQC, and revalidation. I think more significant is the sense that we have suffered a loss of control of our work, with QOF making us ask pointless questions about emergency contraception to 45-year-olds, prescribing software pop-ups that order us around for petty savings, warnings about FGM on computers of doctors in areas with no ethnic minorities. These are very harmful to our sense of doing a worthwhile job.
And we have failed to recruit new GPs. Quite an achievement when one considers that the training is three years rather than seven, salaries are good, and there is no out-of-hours work if you don’t want it. How have the deaneries managed that? I have talked to many young doctors and most of the ones who have done F2 in general practice have felt exploited and hated it. They feel that have been chucked in at the deep end. There seems to have been lots of investment in the system for training registrars who often work at the practices of the doctors in the training hierarchy, but very little in F2 practices – who are after all the shop window that we need to perform well if we are to attract new GPs.
Maybe it is just me, but I find many of the graphics in the BMJ hard to follow. The image below is from a clinical update on “Depression and anxiety in patients with cancer” (BMJ 28 April 2018, p116-120). It occupies two whole pages. I am not certain what problem the graphic is trying to solve. For me, it just induces a sense of incomprehension. Or nausea.
In dermatology, there was a famous US academic known for producing slides with numerous arrows, many involving feedback. It was professional cargo-cult science (as the BMJ is cargo-cult education). Sam Shuster always cautioned: more than 3 or 4 arrows per slide, usually means bullshit.
That which is simple is wrong; that which is complicated is useless (Paul Valery).
My third issue is more nuanced. The biggest reason for cataract blindness is the dearth of ophthalmologists. Orthopaedic surgeons in Leicester faced with a backlog of carpal tunnel surgery decided to train intensively one theatre nurse. As a result, our carpal tunnel surgery service is probably the best and most cost effective in the country. Having a person who is not a “fully qualified doctor and surgeon” operating on cataracts could be the best solution.
Quote from, John Sandford-Smith, retired ophthalmologist, Leicester. BMJ 2018;360:k640
This sort of argument is old, and largely correct. But you can only scale such a process with the help of some form of certification, because without it, there is no durable career structure. And without this, there is no investment.
The Medical Council of India has asked state councils to investigate the problem of “ghost” teachers in medical colleges following the discovery of more than 400 fake teachers in four colleges in three states.
He said that the Maharishi Markandeshwar College in Ambala, established in 2008, has an annual intake of 150 students.“It needs a minimum of 108 faculty members as per the Medical Council of India norms. On paper it has 145 teachers listed. But that’s on paper. The college would retain a majority of the names adding new ones off and on. During inspections the doctors would appear and then disappear once the inspections were over.”
We learn that:
These “ghost teachers” are registered as faculty members drawing a hefty salary, but have never taken a single class. Most of them run private clinics, and only attend the college when there is an impending medical inspection.
Well, one wit once remarked that the collective noun for a group of professors is “An absence of professors”.
As the surgeon reached for a scrub brush, the medical student lingered back, his thumbs incessantly and rhythmically tapping on the screen of his phone. The surgeon peered at him with frustration, annoyed that again his student appeared more interested in his smartphone than the pathology. In an effort to engage him back to the case, the surgeon asked: “Can you tell me what tendons lie in each of the extensor compartments in the hand?” The student’s head snapped up, and he quickly rattled off the answer with ease. Smiling momentarily, he then asked, “Could I get your thoughts on this new video describing nerve transfers rather than tendon transfers for radial nerve injuries that was just uploaded to our educational portal? See, I have it pulled up right here, it was just presented last week at the plenary session…”
This article is about truck drivers in the US, where getting a license requires a big investment. The article states that there is now a shortage of truck drivers and argues that this may be a result of the ‘inevitable’ rise of automated drivers.
Many young people are reluctant to pay $5,000-$10,000 to learn to drive an 18-wheeler at a time when experts are predicting that it is a dead end career.
This is akin to what I wrote about before. When people know that a line of work is ‘unlikely’ to continue, they are prone not to want to invest in it. It is not too fanciful to see this happening in medicine. Start with imaging specialties first; and then look at the use of paramedical staff in restricted clinical domains.
Most, if not all, of us, if asked to be cared for by a television doctor if we had a serious medical problem, would select Dr. Gregory House of the TV series House. He would fail most of the core competencies except for knowledge and skill.
Sidney Herman Weissman in Academic Medicine.
There is a parallel argument used in business: about rounding out the edges leading to less hard thinking. I might agree.
Enrico Fermi was big on back-of-the-envelope calculations. I cannot match his brain, but I like playing with simple arithmetic. Here are some notes I made several years ago after reading a paper from Mistry et al in the British Journal of Cancer on cancer incidence projections for the UK.
For melanoma we will see a doubling between now (then) and 2030, half of this is increase in age specific incidence and half due to age change. Numbers of cases for the UK:
If we assume we see 15 non-melanomas (mimics) for every melanoma, the number of OP visits with or without surgery is as follows.
This is for melanoma. The exponent for non-melanoma skin cancer is higher, so these numbers are an underestimate of the challenge we face. Once you add in ‘awareness campaigns’, things look even worse.
At present perhaps 25% of consultant dermatology posts are empty (no applicants), and training numbers and future staffing allowing for working patterns, reducing. Waiting times to see a dermatologist in parts of Wales are over a year. The only formal training many receive in dermatology as an undergraduate can be measured in days. Things are worse than at any time in my career. It is with relief, that I say I am married to a dermatologist.
Neurophobia’, a term first coined by Jozefowicz in 1994, describes medical students’ fear of neurology 2. It is a chronic illness that begins early in medical school 4. Physicians and medical students alike often state that neurology is the most difficult subject in the medical school curriculum, and that their knowledge about the subject matter is limited, leading to a lack of confidence in managing neurology patients 5, 6, 7. [link]
There are lots of other phobias, too. Pick one up as you check out of med school.
Abraham Flexner is of course famous in clinical medicine, for his report and influence on medical schools in the USA (and indirectly, the rest of the world). But I did not know of this book. A message I would strongly recommend to those regulators and their ilk who are shorting the future with ‘reforms’ and ‘competency’.
Nevertheless, recent reviews find little evidence that cancer patients benefit after clinicians are taught communication.9, 14-16 Although training can change clinicians’ communication, for instance by increasing open questions or empathic statements, effects on patients’ satisfaction, well-being or clinical outcomes have proved elusive. The reviews’ authors recommend improved research designs in a continued effort to show that training does help patients. However, there are concerns that expert guidance on communication is often unrealistic,17-21 and many clinicians and students remain sceptical of it.11, 20, 22-31 Moreover, social scientists have challenged assumptions on which communication education and guidance in cancer and across health care are based.32-34
Geoff Norman has — as usual — a thoughtful editorial here. My clickbait version of it is:
As anyone who has engaged in the culture wars between qualitative and quantitative researchers will attest, the debate between the two groups are unlikely to resolve anytime soon. …….To put it bluntly, at the risk of offending some, constructivists are going around the world making sweeping generalizations about how you can’t make sweeping generalizations.
And I am glad he gives space to the Gigerenzer critique of some of the “heuristics and biases” school that has become so popular:
While the definitions of the heuristics in Kahneman’s hands appear unequivocal, Zwaan et al. (2017) showed that purported experts are completely unable to agree on the presence or absence of specific biases, and conversely are themselves strongly influenced by hindsight knowledge of the outcome
The foundations of research in medical education are not nearly as secure as many people wish to maintain. Plenty of physics envy to go around, and jobs to match.
Is it medical education or medical training? This is almost an age-old question, one that I am not going to resolve here. But every generation has to ask it anew. Not least because the sands of time keep moving.
In undergraduate medicine, in 2017, I fear we have got this wrong in a big way. Just when the future looks ever more uncertain, when we have to consider how much traditional ideas of medical careers — and even how we conceptualise doctors — is up for grabs, we are ever more focussed on short term goals: not medical education, but short term training (‘produce FY1 doctors’). But of course, the purpose of medical eduction is not to produce FY1 doctors — that is like saying that passing tests is the purpose of education. The purpose of medical education is to equip students to work (usually) in medicine for a lifetime. Graduates must be able to start learning safely in a clinical environment, but the purpose is not to be FY1’s or core medical trainees.
But the other reason that this problem needs revisiting, is that medical education was framed in time when few people went to university, and when spending five years at university seemed unusual. No matter that much of it was ‘training’ rather than education: by comparison with ‘average’ there was some education in there. But what I fear now is that many medical students are being left behind, increasingly ‘trained’ for one employer and one niche, at the cost of their education. A niche that is threatened by ecological change. And to echo a theme of the day, young people are being made to pay (via debt) for what many other corporations rightly accept is their ‘training’ responsibility.
Now, I do not see the solution in making medicine a postgraduate degree (for most), but I think we can start meaningfully thinking about what I would call ‘medicine plus’ degrees. Doing this, means we have to start unpicking ‘training’ and ‘education’ in ways that do not increase costs, and with an eye on the student’s future, not that of the NHS.
MIT’s WoodyFlowers has some interesting things to say in a completely different context (that of the failure of the MOOC movement), but which I think we can meld to our purpose .
The missed opportunity, I argued, involved recognition that education and training are different and that training could be dramatically improved through use of well structured, high quality modules that would help students train themself so person-to-person time could be used for education. Essentially the strategy would outsource training and nonjudgmental grading to digital systems, and thereby free instructors to serve as mentors.
Title: borrowed from “Subterranean Homesick Blues”. There are lots of lines that students of the fees era would do well to reflect on, including: “Don’t follow leaders, Watch the parkin’ meters”.
You don’t learn to draw by knowing how pencils are made
These sort of aphorisms always make me to want to think harder about what exactly is foundational in medical education. The suspicion is that it is far less than we think. Schooling is full of wasted time spent learning things that are of little use, but easy to test, meaning there is little time for students to learn things that are useful.
The case for anatomy in surgery is robust and self-evident. If you remove tumours in the preauricular area or on the temple, you have to know what structures to avoid or which ones may have become compromised. If you ask any competent surgeon they will of course know what these structures are. But when you move into many areas of clinical medicine, I am always amazed by how much competent physicians have forgotten about all these things that were labelled ‘foundational’, and formed the basis of high-stakes exams. It is of course possible to be aware of schema, that structure your behaviour, and be unable to recall them — schema that experts implicitly know and novices don’t. But I suspect we need some sort of minimalism project, to work out how far we can go.
I was browsing through some old noes and came across this:
Third, we’re convinced that medical education and training must be reinvented to adapt to the changing health care paradigm. We think that AHCs should reexamine traditional beliefs and approaches to medical education, questioning its cost and duration. Should education shift toward using dedicated instructors, increased online instruction, simulation, even gaming? Can AHCs shorten training time by streamlining the educational continuum — for example, providing a focused 3-year medical school curriculum in primary care, plus a 2-to-3-year residency?
“Physical exam skills are eroding fairly significantly. We see that year after year. The masters who taught us are gone, and we’re not teaching the people below us well enough, for all the reasons we talked about.
At the same time, we grossly overestimated the average clinician’s ability to do an extremely good physical exam and to make all of the relevant physical findings. It has been documented over and over again that the average person’s ability to use a stethoscope and document a murmur accurately is a coin flip. The ability of the average house officer to do volume assessment based on a physical exam is terribly low.”
So, you are interested in medical education? Discuss.
The survey found that UK medical schools employed 3041 full time equivalent clinical academic staff employed by UK medical schools, with a headcount of 3361. This is a 2.1% decline since 2015 and a 4.2% decline since 2010. By comparison, since 2010 the number of NHS consultants has risen by 20.6%.
Reform of, and improving how we educate medical students requires a rethink of medical school staffing, and how clinical academics work. There are plenty of heads in the sand. I think you can improve education and drastically cut costs at the same time. Just stop accelerating into the rose tinted image in the rear view mirror.
This can be read as typical Silicon Valley hype, but I think it is more right than wrong. Just as government thought computer education in schools was about using MS Office, too many in higher education think it is about copies of dismal Powerpoints online, lecture capture, or online surveillance of students and staff. The computer revolution hasn’t happened yet. Medical education is a good place to start.
What can we do to accelerate the revolution? From our observation, the computer revolution is intertwined with the education revolution(and vice versa). The next steps in both are also highly overlapped: the computer revolution needs a revolution in education, and the education revolution needs a revolution in computing.
We think that, for any topic, a good teacher and good books can provide an above threshold education. For computing, one problem is that there aren’t enough teachers who understand the subject deeply enough to teach effectively and to guide children. Perhaps we can utilize the power of the computer itself to make education better? We don’t hope to be able to replace good teachers, but can the computer be a better teacher than a bad teacher?
How to select medical students…………..
On the topic of quotations, though, a longer recent discussion about Hanlon’s Razor on the Farnam Street blog includes this rather nice one from the German general Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord:
I divide my officers into four groups. There are clever, diligent, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and diligent – their place is the General Staff. The next lot are stupid and lazy – they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the intellectual clarity and the composure necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is stupid and diligent – he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always cause only mischief.
Jed Mecurio was on Desert Island Discs. He of ‘Cardiac Arrest’ fame. (ITU: they used to call it the ICU — intensive care unit — till they realised, nobody did). Something he said chimed with a conversation I had with somebody who knows a lot more about junior doctor training in the modern NHS than I do.
Mercurio, was the son of working class Italian immigrants. And, as is true of many immigrants, a child moving into the stable world of the professions is encouraged. Mercurio pointed out that the popular representation of medicine often does not match the reality. Those with family members already in medicine know this, whereas those without this, have to discover it (at least, I hope they discover it).
When I was trying to get a handle on some of the issues surrounding junior doctor training with my source, the very same point came up. Many junior docs idea of what medicine was like, he / she argued, was based on TV programs — and more Eastenders than West Wing. And this is a problem, he commented.
Cardiac Arrest may be showing its age, but for me it was more accurate than all the sanitised bumph that medical schools and the GMC produce. Fiction is sometimes more real than reality.
One of the important things I learned from reading Herb Simon’s ‘Models of my life’ was his view that seldom did reading the academic literature feed him with new ideas on what to work on. I do not mean to imply that reading the literature is irrelevant, but that in some domains of enquiry the formal literature is often unhelpful when it comes to not so much thinking outside the the box, but realising the box needs throwing out and you need a chair instead. For instance, in med ed, I find most of the formal literature akin to chewing sawdust. It is dull and often the main motivation seems to be to advance one’s career rather than change the world. All of this came to my mind when I read the following:
It tells the remarkable tale of Athletic Bilbao, one of three clubs never to have been relegated from La Liga, the Spanish top division, despite having a policy of selecting only Basque players. Bilbao’s story emphasises a recurring theme of the book: the importance of development programmes for young players and the lengths that clubs go to in order to nurture footballers. Benfica, a Portuguese club, uses a 360-degree “football room”, walled by LED lights, to train players in over 100 scenarios. Targets appear for the players to hit with the ball; sensors measure the players’ effectiveness.
( a review in the Economist of The European Game: The Secrets of European Football Success. By Daniel Fieldsend. Arena Sport; 255 pages; £14.99.)
Now, readers will know that given the genes, I am more rugby than soccer, although I marvel at the skill modern footballers show. But what interests me and has interested me for a while is the relation between structured unnatural performance and fluency at performance. Now my phrasing may be a little ugly, and I do not think there is anything deep or new about what I am saying. Just take how we know you learn a musical instrument. How breaking up and sequencing of mini skills is necessary before you put it all together. People do not pay to listen to people play scales (although I will ignore, shred guitar aficionados), but rather they like songs or sonatas etc.
I would push this is the following direction. A real danger in undergraduate medicine is that we have become inured to the idea that learning situated in the clinic is the best way to learn medicine. At one time, I might have agreed. But out clinics have changed, but our ideas have not. One of the benefits of coaching and online learning is that we can make the offline — the clinic — work better. But also need it less, because it is not working well.
There are some interesting apparent paradoxes here. We need (pace the above quote) more ‘football rooms’, but as Seymour Papert argued, if you want to learn to speak French go to France and if you want to learn maths go to mathland. But are these real or virtual?