Saturday, February 23, 2008

David discusses med school by correspondence

Normally, my rant:rave ratio here is pretty high, and hopefully that's something the six dedicated readers have come love. For once, however, I'm going to discuss something neither rant nor rave, but rather simply a part of med school I never expected.

I'm not exactly sure what I thought med school class would be like, but I imagined it would more or less follow the structure of my undergrad pre-med courses: go to class, take some notes, maybe read a textbook, study for exams, bubble in the scantron to make a funny picture and hope to live to do it all again in a few weeks. I figured there would be great, inspire-you-to-learn teachers, other, less effective profs that droned on and on, and a wide variety in between. One thing I did not expect was how much of the first year could be just as easily taught by correspondence as in class.

It may be no great revelation that the MS-1 curriculum is mostly about learning the vocabulary of the body and disease and important background information about biochemical, immunological, blahblogical processes, etc. Beyond the obvious exceptions - anatomy lab, clinical stuff - most of this information can be effectively taught through textbooks or a solid syllabus. Of our many classes, a few have concise, well-written syllabi that comprehensively present the important information, some interesting extra details, and do a generally excellent job of teaching the material. It's no coincidence that the professors for these classes, as a result of good preparation/organization/whatever, also tend to deliver good lectures. Yet since the provided written materials are so strong, and because it takes even the most gifted lecturer much more time to deliver a talk than it takes a student to read that content in condensed form, many people appropriately choose to skip those lectures. And it's not because they're lazy students. I imagine they make the calculated decision that they can save time going over the material at home or would rather dictate their daily schedule and decide exactly when they want to review that information.

On the flip side, in classes without dependable syllabi, where the organization is relatively poor and the expectations for students consistently vague, attendance skyrockets. Not surprisingly, these lectures are often disjointed, even incomprehensible, and sometimes I come away far worse for the wear with almost no new knowledge to show for it. (Loyal reader, you might be thinking, "David, that's probably because you're an idiot." True though that may be, I assure you that I am not the only one that feels this way.) This theme doesn't necessarily depend on the content of the class or even the attitude of the professors towards student learning, it's just a product of how well the course and study materials are organized.

Maybe this isn't surprising, but it seems odd to me that the most engaging professors who have the most well-developed lectures are the ones that face an empty auditorium, while those running the classes that most frequently frustrate the students get a full house. What's more, if the latter profs emulated the former, there would be virtually no reason for many people to attend class at all. Students would have high-quality study material, complete all of the educational objectives set forth by the faculty, do well on exams, and basically be med students by mail. This dynamic would collapse later on during the transition to the wards, as well as in those aforementioned pre-clinical classes that provide exceptions. Still, on the whole, a University of Phoenix-style curriculum would be about as pedagogically sound as the one we have now (that's right, I used 'pedagogically', what of it?).

Not to complain, because I do think we are getting a good education, but isn't that still a bit strange?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am proud to be one of the masses inspiring this post! ;)