Friday, August 14, 2009

Humiliation Based Learning

I still remember the day I learned I had been accepted into medical school and intense feeling of euphoria because I knew that I was essentially set for life. Once in medical school it is extremely hard not to graduate, once graduated after going thru some type of post-graduate training (for which you are paid) you are assured of being employed earning a comfortable and possibly lavish income for the rest of your working life. (Actually I was unemployed for weeks at a time as a family doc and in the early 1990s a number of anaesthesiologists I knew didn't have jobs).

For that privilege you have to put up with a few things, including student loans, long hours, hospital food and of course proving that you are actually learning something.

A general surgeon at our hospital preceptors medical students which means he takes them for several weeks, during which time they come to his office, his clinics, round on his patients and come to the OR with him. This is a heck of lot nicer than my surgical clerkship which largely consisted of dealing with problems on the ward and holding retractors. He is to be accurate not the only surgeon in our city who preceptors students.

He recently read the evaluation on his rotation by one of the students he had preceptored for a few weeks. This was a negative evaluation and the student accused him of "humiliation based learning". Seems our surgeon actually expected his students to read up on what they were seeing or going to see, to answer questions and if they didn't know something to read up on it. He would ask them questions during the day including in the operating room and the clinics where there were people like me and the nurses to listen. I heard him many a time and he was never disrespectful although he would remind the student that they had already talked about this.

This was of course how I and most of my generation of doctors learned things. We went around the wards with a clinician who would ask us questions in front of our peers and whoever else happened to be in earshot. If you didn't want to publicly humiliated, you learned to read up on your material. If the clinician knew that you were generally up on your stuff, he or she was a lot easier on you when you didn't know something. As you got higher up the food chain with more responsibility for patient care, the questions could become more pointed and the response to not knowing was often a reflection on your competency. There is no doubt some clinicians were bullies and targeted the weaker students/interns/residents.

Worse were the clinicians who played the "what am I thinking?" game. This involved a vague open ended question to which any answer you could give was not what the clinician was looking for. We had a number of clinicians like this in medical school. Sessions with them could be miserable.

Humiliating anybody is wrong. However we learned that if you knew the answer, if you at least appeared like you had read around the topic, if you had a reputation for usually knowing the answer or sometimes if you just said, "I don't know" instead of bull-shitting your could usually avoid the humiliation. The pendulum seems now to have swung too far.

When I was a resident, there was still the mantra, that a resident must be prepared to present on any topic at any time. We actually believed that and the first year of your residency was a terrifying game of catch up. The upside of this was that the last year of your residency when you had exams was less of a terrifying game of catch up. Due the CofE being on academic probation our little hospital is seeing more residents especially juniors and I am sometimes amazed (although less so now) but how little they have read, how they don't read journals at all and how a simple question like "tell me the anaesthetic implications of diabetes" (this is usually asked while we are doing a diabetic patient) sends them into a panic.

One of our gynaecologists informed me that they were told they shouldn't ask residents questions where the resident doesn't know the answer!

One likes to think that things like OSCEs, written exams and FITERs will weed out the unsuitables,knowledgeables and incompetents , however another doctor told me she is never going to fail a medical student again after having to take an unpaid day off work to attend the (successful) appeal. As a future consumer of the healthcare system, I am more than a little worried.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Concerning humiliation, you may find these resources very interesting:

It is possible to provide quality education and adequate preparation of medical and nursing students while ensuring human dignity at the same time.

Medical and nursing professors and students all need to learn to stop being so touchy, vain and self-regarding, so that they can listen to well-founded criticism without becoming defensive. Further, students need to learn to become more assertive and know how to stand their ground when their views come under pressure. All need to care more about formulating their thoughts precisely and less about the impression they make on others. Finally, each of us should learn to distinguish between an attack on our ideas and hypotheses versus an attack on our person or character. This would be easier if all sides in medical education could avoid being unduly aggressive and domineering or without silencing others.