Medical school hosts education symposium

It is hardly news that studying medicine is a strenuous task, but some tortured pre-meds might take pleasure in knowing that teaching it isn’t much of a breeze, either.

Kenneth Ludmerer, professor of medical history at Washington University in St. Louis, spoke at a symposium titled “Internal Challenges to Medical Education” held Thursday afternoon at the Yale School of Medicine in front of an audience of professors and medical students. He addressed challenges that modern medical educators face as a result of the evolution of the profession.

Ludmerer began by discussing the difficulty in reconciling education and scientific research. Currently, Ludmerer said, research conducted in medical institutions is not immediately applicable to the practice of medicine.

“A distance arises between what medical faculty members are doing in their research and what students need to know for practice,” he said. “Connecting the two is the most important and difficult internal problem.”

A second teaching-related problem, he said, is modifying medical education to reflect the change that has occurred in the type of illnesses widespread among society.

“Our system of health care was invented to meet the needs of society that was plagued by acute illnesses,” he said. “Nowadays, people are living longer and developing different chronic diseases, and this poses a new set of challenges for those who teach medicine.”

He also pointed out that the new types of diseases have led to changes in the doctor-patient relationship, both of which need to be addressed by educators.

A good physician, Ludmerer said, must be aware of the patient’s preferences and know when to be more encouraging. He stressed the need for humanities and ethics programs in the medical curriculum.

Audience members reacted favorably to the talk, and several graduate students said they shared Ludmerer’s concerns.

“I think the trends in medical education the speaker addressed are definitely relevant to my experience here at Yale,” Brendan Jackson MED ’07 said.

Ludmerer ended his speech by broadly critiquing the medical field as a whole, saying that more emphasis and resources are put toward research and patient care than toward medical education.

“Teaching was never valued high enough at medical school,” he said. “The system is not geared towards rewarding educators for exceptional teaching.”

He said he thinks the root of the problem is research universities’ tendency to underestimate teaching — a point that some students attending the talk said they agreed with.

“The value of putting resources towards clinical educators and faculty development is a very significant problem,” Jason Frangos MED ’08 said. “I feel it doesn’t get the attention it deserves.”

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