Virtual medical school? I’d rather have some real teaching

Could somebody please just tell me what’s going on?

As we speak, in the hallowed halls of medical schools up and down the country, almost every scrap of traditional didactic delivery is being ‘innovated’ out of the curriculum and medical education is dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty first century. Teaching is being stripped down and replaced with ‘flipped classroom’ iPad orgies – one teacher to thirty or more medical students – and dissertation projects swapped in favour of peer assessment group work where there isn’t actually any time spent with facilitators whatsoever.  Some medical schools avidly wave the innovation flag with their problem-based learning curricula which tend to focus on week-by-week self-directed learning centred around a particular case, supplemented by lectures that aren’t broadly attendance based, and, what is more, are rarely updated from their previous avatars from years gone by.  ‘It better reflects the way you’ll work when you qualify’, they attest, ‘it’ll mean you’re better suited for working in a team’, they swear.  Well, I’ve never felt so unsupervised in my knowledge, and I’ve never felt so solitary in my study, and I feel like responsibility is being shirked.

Many might be fooled into believing that education at medical school is delivered by crusty consultants edging closer and closer to retirement imparting nuggets of hard-earned wisdom to students eager to drink from their brimming fountains of knowledge.  Don’t get me wrong, it is in some medical schools, but they’re now in the minority.  ‘You must have so many lectures!?’ people grimace when they see the girth of my textbooks, ‘not really’, I reply, almost apologetically, ‘I pretty much teach myself’.  I had the same amount of lectures in my previous degree – English Literature – and didn’t have that much less by way of registrable ‘contact time’ either, for that matter.

Ultimately, medicine shouldn’t be difficult. Learning a voluminous amount of informationshouldn’t be difficult if delivered properly with due guidance and, in my book, a hearty emphasis placed upon learning from experts who know more than you do about almost everything.  Otherwise, you risk disenfranchising a crop of medical students who were given almost sole responsibility for their own progression and for whom the buck stops at, well, no one.  If they don’t do well, it’s their own fault, and never a slight on faculty or the course delivery.  If they do do well, I’d attest that it’s in spite of their course delivery.

Fundamentally, people’s lives are at stake when each cohort of medical graduates hits the ward every August.  Wouldn’t you rather they had been supervised in their learning, encouraged, and appraised in a way that put emphasis on not leaving any stone left unturned and had their transformation into the consummate junior as its number one priority?  You and me both.  I don’t think anyone can be quite sure why innovation is being enforced, whether it’s a simple cost-saving problem, or whether our facilitators are simply smitten by the spirit and they actually believe letting young students/future life savers take increasing control of their own learning is a good idea?  I’m just not sure anymore.  I’m spitting the kool-aid back out.  I want answers.

Matthew Betts
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