Keeping students engaged while learning has challenged educators for decades, and in the digital era, it’s harder than ever, says Dr. Sanjay Sharma, an eye surgeon and professor of ophthalmology at Queen’s University.
“I’d like to think of myself as a dynamic lecturer, but a few years ago when I was teaching my second-year medical students, I noticed within five minutes of starting my presentation on acute vision loss, people were tuning into Facebook and YouTube,” recalls Dr. Sharma.
He soon realized students are simply wired differently today compared to 30 years ago. Medical education’s traditional ‘sage on the stage’ model — where physicians stand centre stage imparting knowledge over a one-hour teaching block — desperately needed updating.
“I thought: Let’s reimagine and redesign the medical education system to be more congruent with the way kids who grew up using YouTube consume content, learn and think,” says Dr. Sharma.
Like Pixar meets the 21st century of medical education
Tapping into a network of more than 180 globally renowned professors and physicians, Dr. Sharma — who completed his medical training at Harvard University — developed MEDSKL.com, an e-learning platform providing free access to medical education resources for both students and new doctors.
As MEDSKL‘s editor-in-chief, Dr. Sharma is determined to meet students where they are by embracing a digital model. After creating the first e-learning module and testing it against traditional teaching, he discovered students scored 12 per cent higher through e-learning. The modules incorporate animation, gamification, collaborative discussion groups and live interactive sessions to help make learning more enjoyable, efficient and effective.
“It’s almost like Pixar meets the 21st century of medical education,” explains Dr. Sharma.
“For instance, if you go on the platform, you’ll learn about chest pain in a three-minute animation: Here’s what you can’t afford to miss if someone walks in through the door with chest pain. Then, there’s a full-on lecture, so we appeal to all types of learners, whether they’re visual, auditory or traditional text-based.
Students coming from 400+ universities
Over the past few years, Dr. Sharma’s team created about 200 peer-reviewed lesson modules from top medical educators based on the learning objectives used by medical schools worldwide. He believes part of why the platform works is because the information is bite-sized and easily absorbed.
“Learning has to become a habit; I would much rather people consume small pieces of content on a regular basis than have a daunting situation where they’ve got to set aside 15 hours to go through everything. In the reality of today’s world, that just doesn’t happen,” he explains.
Feedback from MEDSKL users has been overwhelmingly positive, he reports, with students from more than 400 universities now participating.
“To bring something from ideation to reality, coordinating education and fostering open discussion with colleagues around the world has been amazing,” says Dr. Sharma.
“Students can ask questions in real-time, plus we’re leveraging social media channels and building communities.”
Beyond medical lessons: Financeology
Along with the rave reviews for MEDSKL‘s platform, Dr. Sharma and his team learned how many medical students and recent graduates struggle with debt.
“New doctors said, ‘We feel phenomenal in terms of our diagnostics, but on day one, we get out into private practice and we’re running small businesses. We don’t have the know-how to do that,'” he recalls.
Most Canadian medical students face a significant amount of debt upon graduation according to the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada, and this financial stress may contribute to doctor burnout for the next generation of physicians. To address these concerns, MEDSKL is partnering with RBC Healthcare to launch Financeology, a new personal finance e-learning channel to help medical students and new graduates efficiently become better business owners.
“We want to help patients; that’s what we all went into medicine for. But if you can cut out some of the downtime and inefficient parts of your practice, you may help two additional patients. So you’ve doubled your output, and you’re helping two people,” he says.
Breaking down finance challenges into actionable steps
The Financeology modules break down common personal finance challenges into simple, actionable steps medical students and new physicians can easily incorporate into their lives and their practices, says Dr. Sharma.
“I wanted to make sure these students really understand what they’re getting into, and how to learn good financial habits early,” he notes.
“RBC has a wonderful team that really bought into the vision, and they’re very passionate about medical students and young doctors, so this is a nice partnership. If we can help them in this area, I think that’s doing a great service and ultimately, if it prolongs their medical careers, that’s great for patients as well.”
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