Medical students are used to being at the bottom of the totem pole. However, there is one area in which they surpass residents and attending physicians: the art of communication.
Unfortunately, as you gain training and experience in medicine, your communication skills may worsen. Although there are obvious reasons why this occurs (eg, time constraints curtail communication), the trend can be stopped.
The ability to communicate well is not innate. Think of communication as another procedure you must learn in medical school, perhaps one of the most important in the long run — given that most of what you do is talk to patients.
Research shows that the patients of physicians who communicate well are more adherent to therapies, more satisfied with care, and less likely to file malpractice suits. Just like you need to learn how to diagnose strep throat, you need to learn how to communicate effectively.
How well we learn communication depends on how it’s taught. Few of us learn well when we sit in lecture halls and listen to didactic presentations. “And before you tell the patient the bad news, ask the patient what she knows first…” The main problem with this format is that none of the information is individualized to the learner. It is easy for the learner to see the technique and think, “I already do that, so I don’t need to improve,” or “I don’t do that with my patients, so this is not relevant to me.”
It’s not news that sleep is tied to learning — even a 90-minute nap can significantly help boost your brain power — but if you want to cement new knowledge in your brain, recent sleep research demonstrates that a good night’s sleep shortly following your studies has a significant impact on your ability to retain information.
The study in question asked participants to memorize related word pairs (e.g., circus – clown) and unrelated word pairs (e.g., cactus – brick). Some participants learned the words at 9am, some at 9pm. The 9pm crowd went to sleep shortly after learning the words. The 9am crowd did not.
The results: Sleep made no difference when participants were asked to recall the related words, but when participants were asked to recall unrelated word pairs, the 9pm group — the group that slept right after learning — did significantly better. So where your brain already has a strong semantic roadmap for learning (as is the case with the related word pairs), sleep doesn’t have a major effect. Where it’s forming new connections, sleep makes all the difference.
Stick that in your mind pipe next time you need to do some serious cramming.
A simple technique dramatically improved the memory recall of Harvard Medical School students. Try it for yourself!
Turning a medical student into a doctor takes a whole lot of knowledge. B. Price Kerfoot, an associate professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School, was frustrated at how much knowledge his students seemed to forget over the course of their education. He suspected this was because they engaged in what he calls “binge and purge” learning: They stuffed themselves full of facts and then spewed them out at test time. Research in cognitive science shows that this is a very poor way to retain information, as Kerfoot discovered when he went looking in the academic literature for answers. But he also stumbled upon a method that really is effective, called spaced repetition. Kerfoot devised a simple digital tool to make engaging in spaced repetition almost effortless. In more than two dozen studies published over the past five years, he has demonstrated that spaced repetition works, increasing knowledge retention by up to 50 percent. And Kerfoot’s method is easily adapted by anyone who needs to learn and remember, not just those pursuing MDs.