With the overwhelming volume of knowledge available online and the advent of learning even through smartphones, tablets and laptops, discussion around whether there is a place for traditional lectures is garnering much attention of late.

In fact, many institutes of higher education are seeking ways to change the approaches (methods) they teach medical students today. Here, we list down some of the examples.

1. By making classes interactive

One way in which universities are trying to change the way they teach is through ‘active learning’ and one school that has embraced this method entirely is the University of Vermont’s College of Medicine.

As William Jeffries, a dean at the university explains, “There is a lot of evidence that lectures are not the best way to accumulate the skills needed to become a scientist or a physician.”

In ‘active learning’, students are required to learn material before a class. Then, during the class, students work in groups to use their knowledge to solve real life-based health problems; and then present their solutions to the class.

This was done with teaching pharmacokinetics, for example. Rather than having the lecturers presenting simply the equations and providing examples of their function – the students were given cases. Each patient was given a drug in a certain dose, at a certain time and groups of students had to solve the action of the drug over time, at that concentration in the bloodstream.

Confucius once said, “Tell me and I will forget; show me and I may remember – involve me and I will understand.” True enough, “when you just tell somebody something, the chances of them remembering it diminishes over time, but if you are required to use that information, chances are you'll remember it much better,” elaborates Jeffries. In fact, the university plans to stop all lectures by 2019.

2. By putting knowledge in context of the system of care

Another school in America, George Washington University, is changing its teaching method by introducing students to the intricacies of the health care system they will soon enter.

As Dr Lawrence Deyton, senior associate dean and the brain behind the idea, explains, "Clinicians today have to recognise and be able to act on the fact that their patients – when they leave the clinic or leave the hospital – are going home and living in situations where there are all kinds of factors that promote and perpetuate chronic disease.”

With knowledge, not just of medicine, but also the current policy and public health issues with which they must practise this medicine, new doctors will be better placed to provide individual and effective treatment. In the classroom this translates, for example, into giving students a project on how to control childhood asthma after learning about the pulmonary system.

This activity brought an entire class of first-year students to Washington to present their solutions to a panel of doctors, parents and city health officials. One group of students’ solution was an app called AsthMama, which notifies either a parent or school nurse before the child’s breathing problems escalate.

“It's a bracelet that would be worn by a child with asthma that transmits information to an app on a parent's smartphone," one of the students, Erin Good explains. Good’s group then suggests how the project can be funded and implemented in the long-term.

As Neel Shah, a physician and policy researcher at Harvard puts it, “There's like a huge gap between the macro-level understanding of health care economics and what matters to patients and clinicians at the bedside."

3. By bringing doctors, nurses and pharmacists together

At Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, professors are focusing on giving students experience of working in teams with other types of healthcare professionals such as nurses, pharmacists and physical therapists.

"In every other industry – business, aviation, whatever – in order to be more efficient and get good outcomes, you need to take a team approach,” president of the university, Stephen Klasko says. “The only way for that to happen in medicine is to start from the beginning – in school.”

These groups of healthcare students are provided with a “health mentor” who is a patient within the community. The team will then work together to develop a healthcare plan while visiting the patient regularly to takes notes on their history.

Although they do not deliver treatment themselves, they do focus on certain aspects of its delivery. For example, they may improve health and safety in the patient’s home or monitor interactions of the drugs they are taking.

This experience enables doctors understand what other experts bring to the table, and therefore learn to interact more effectively with them. MIMS

Read more:
5 common yet "unofficial" lessons from medical school
Interdisciplinary training: The benefits of training medical students with other healthcare professionals
When doctors and nurses collide: How can the differences be resolved?