Love Letters for Med Students Follow-Up

27 01 2013

futuredocs:

For any students wondering what to do if they write or receive love letters from residency programs, here is an oldie but goodie to help. Since this post, we conducted a 7 school study in 2010 of graduates that showed that almost one-fifth reported feeling assured by a program they would match there but did not despite ranking that program first. Nearly one-fourth said they changed their rank order list based on communications with programs. The conclusion “Students should be advised to interpret any comments made by programs cautiously.” And of course be mindful that the 2013 Rank order list certification deadline is Feb 20th at 8pm Central Time. Good luck!

 

Vineet Arora MD

Originally posted on FutureDocs:

While Valentine’s Day is coming soon, a different sort of ‘love letter’ may be sent or received by senior medical students.  As recruitment season draws to a close, residency programs and applicants may be busy exchanging notes of interest, affectionately dubbed “love letters” by scores of medical students and on StudentDoctor.net.

What do these love letters mean?  Some students have asked us whether it is a Match Violation to get or send a love letter.  Others have worried they did not send enough or what type of language they should use.  Well, here are some quick tips on how to approach this somewhat awkward situation.

  1. Is it a Match Violation? It is not a Match Violation for a program or a student to express interest in the other.  However, these statements of interest cannot be binding (i.e. we will only rank you highly if you rank us #1).  If there is any part of it…

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Cultivating Creativity in Medical Training FedEx Style

14 01 2013

Over the holidays, I took full advantage of this opportunity to read a book from start to finish.  I chose Daniel Pink’s Drive.  It was actually recommended by @Medrants and I read it partly to understand why pay-for-performance often fails to accomplish its goals for complex tasks, such as patient care.  However, the thing I found most interesting about this book was the way in which creativity is deliberately inspired and cultivated by industry.

I could not help but think about why we don’t deliberately nurture creativity in medical trainees.  Why am I so interested in creativity?  Perhaps it is the countless trainees I have come across who are recruited to medical school and residency because of their commitment to service who also happen to have an exceptionally creative spirit.  Unfortunately, I worry too many of them have their spirit squashed during traditional medical training.   I am not alone.  I have seen experts argue the need to go from the traditional medical education that is fundamentally oppressive, inhibits critical thinking, and rewards conformity.   Apart from the criticism, it is of course understandable why medical training does not cultivate creativity.  Traditional medical practice does not value creativity.  Patients don’t equate ‘creative doctors’ as the ‘best doctors’.  In fact, doctors who may be overly creative are accused of quackery.

So, why bother with cultivating creativity in medical training? Well, for one thing, creativity is tightly linked to innovation, something we can all benefit from in medical education and healthcare delivery.   While patients may not want a ‘creative approach’ to their medical care, creativity is the key spice in generating groundbreaking medical research, developing a new community or global health outreach program, or testing an innovative approach to improving the system of care that we work in.  Lastly, one key reason to cultivate creativity in medical trainees is to keep all those hopeful and motivated trainees engaged so that they can find joy in work and realize their value and potential as future physicians.  In short, the healthcare system stands to benefit from the changes that are likely to emanate from creative inspired practicing physicians.

So what can we do to cultivate and promote creativity among medical trainees? While there are many possibilities including the trend to implement scholarly concentrations programs like the one I direct, one idea I was intrigued by was the use of a “FedEx Day”.  FedEx Days originated in an Australian software company, but became popularized by Daniel Pink and others in industry.  For a 24 hour period, employees are instructed to work on anything they want, provided it is not part of their regular job.  The name “FedEx” stuck because of the ‘overnight delivery’ of the exceptionally creative idea to the team, although there are efforts being undertaken to provide this idea with a new name. Some of the best ideas have come from FedEx Days or similar approaches, like 3M’s post-its or Google’s gmail.  I haven’t fully figured out how duty hours plays into this yet… so before you report me or ride this off, consider the following.  Borrowing on the theories of Daniel Pink, we would conclude that trainees would gladly volunteer their time to do this because of intrinsic motivation to work on something that they could control and create.  And to all the medical educators who can’t possibly imagine how would we do this during a jam packed training program, lets brainstorm a creative solution together!

Vineet Arora MD





Time to Fight Horrors of Healthcare Costs by Taking Charge of Teaching Value

31 10 2012

This Halloween, several creative costumes have emerged from the zingers of the Presidential debates – Big Bird costumes are selling out like hotcakes. For a more do it yourself look, here’s a recipe for Binders full of women.  The debate over the best way to contain healthcare costs have also been a central part of the debates, and yet medical bills do not seem to make popular costumes. Maybe that is because that unaffordability of healthcare is too horrifying for ironic humor – even on Halloween.

As we head into the election, patients are increasingly being terrorized by runaway healthcare costs.  Americans outspend our peers two to one and still seem to be worse off. We overtest and overtreat to the point of absurdity.   According to a recent report, “The U.S. did 100 MRI tests and 265 CT tests for every 1000 people in 2010 — more than twice the average in other OECD countries.”  The causes are multifactorial but the solutions can’t be left to presidents and policymakers alone. An important part of the responsibility rests with healthcare professionals and the educators who train them.

Experts in health professions education and economics have lamented the poor state of education on healthcare costs.  Over 60% of U.S. medical graduates describe their medical economics training as “inadequate.”  Not only are medical trainees unaware of the costs of the tests that they order, they are rarely positioned to understand the downstream financial harms medical bills can have on patients.  More recently, Medicare, the largest funder of residency training in the United States, is concerned that we are not producing the physicians to practice cost-conscious medicine in an era of diminished resources.

We have been scared in the dark too long and this Halloween the time has come to Take Charge.

Join us now at http://teachingvalue.org/takecharge

About Teaching Value: the Costs of Care Teaching Value Project is an initiative of Costs of Care that is funded by the ABIM Foundation.  Our team is comprised of medical educators and trainees who believe it is time to transform the American healthcare system by empowering cost-conscious caregivers to deflate medical bills and protect patients’ wallets.  Our web-based video modules are designed to be easy to access for anyone anywhere and provide a starting point for tackling this problem. It’s time to emerge from the darkness and do our part to tame the terror of healthcare costs.





Teaching Crucial Conversations: The Curse of Knowledge & the ASK Problem

4 09 2012

One of the most interesting conversations that I had recently was at the ABIM Foundation Summer Forum Open Space Sessions.  The ABIM Foundation Summer Forum is a summit of thought leaders and experts representing healthcare organizations, policymakers, patients, payers, doctors, and trainees who come together to tackle a major problem in healthcare.  The topic of this year’s forum was in keeping with the launch of the new ABIM Choosing Wisely Campaign and aptly named “Choosing Wisely in an Era of Limited Resources.”

The Forum has a unique format, employing a mix of routine panel discussions, but also “Open Space” conversations where participants actually drive the agenda, deciding what they want to work on.  One of the Open Space topics that I ended up joining was on how to train physicians to have crucial conversations with patients.   After forming this group, there were some immediate questions raised– why only physicians?  What about other members of the care team, including the patient?  Moreover, individuals in our group each had a different definition of what  “crucial conversations” were.  One clear theme was around end-of-life conversations with patients, but that was not the only one.  For example, how to talk to a patient who is asking for a medical test that is not indicated?

As I returned home, I reread some of the literature I have become acquainted with on why we (humans) don’t communicate as well as we should.  Using this framework, it’s worth considering why doctors and patients may not communicate as well as they should.  Drawing from the knowledge communication literature when an ‘expert’ is communicating to a ‘decision maker’, two distinct problems can arise:

  • Curse of Knowledge– The curse of knowledge, otherwise known as the paradox of expertise, represents the difficulty of experts to use commonplace jargon to communicate their ideas to those that are not experts.  Because experts tend to surround themselves with other experts, it can be very difficult for an expert not to use technical jargon when communicating with people who not experts.  This is easily evident in a variety of scenarios – most notably in the first few seconds of the trailer for the movie Contagion when doctors try to tell Matt Damon that his wife, played by index case Gwyneth Paltrow, is dead.  The doctor starts by saying “I am sorry…she failed to respond”.  On cue, Matt Damon responds, “OK can I go talk to her?” clearly missing the meaning of what the doctor has just tried to communicate.  Likewise, one of the patient advocates at our table shared the story of how she came to know she had cancer – “It’s malignant” …so she deduced from “Mal” and all the words that start with “mal” are bad (malice, malpractice…to name a few) so she thought “Mal … bad”.
  • ASK Problem – the ASK Problem stands for the Anomalous State of Knowledge.  This is a problem that arises when the decision maker does not have the knowledge that it takes to ask questions, since asking questions often relies on having intimate knowledge of the subject at hand.   This is particularly salient since we have major campaigns that often are directed at patients to “ask more questions” of their doctor.  However, it may be very hard for a nonexpert to ask a question of an expert if they don’t have a set of common knowledge to go on.  Asking questions is so difficult that our work shows its rare for even physicians to ask other physicians questions, and instead they opt for what is known as “back-channeling” or saying “Uh-huh” to indicate their agreement.  The only problem with this is that back-channeling is that it can be exhibited by demented patients so it is not necessarily a confirmation of comprehension or understanding.  To make matters worse, a recent study shows that patients may not ask questions for fear of being labeled “difficult”.

How can we get around these problems? Well, improving a conversation requires training on all sides. Patients can also be coached to take a more active role in their care. However, healthcare personnel also need to be prepared so that their newly empowered patients are not an unwelcome surprise. Physicians and other healthcare personnel need to be trained in how to speak to patients about difficult decisions in a sensitive way.   One model curriculum we can learn from has been developed by oncology fellowship directors and is called OncoTalk.  One of the key tenants is the principle of NURSE, which describes how to respond to patient emotions during complex decision-making.

  • Naming the emotion “It sounds like you are afraid of X”
  • Understanding the emotion  “I can understand the fear that goes along with X.”
  • Respecting  “You are asking the right questions…”
  • Supporting  “I am here to support you through this decision…”
  • Exploring  “What are you thinking about now?”

Of course, the age-old question is can you teach empathy? Well, according to one recent study, empathy wanes throughout medical school.   So we should, at the very least, try to at least preserve it.

Vineet Arora MD





Mentoring in Medical Education: Modeling from the Movies

23 04 2012

A big part of medical education is mentoring.  The term ‘mentor’ originates from Homer’s the Odyssey and refers to an advisor.   The role of mentors vary, but generally serve to guide mentees through work, support them during the process, keep them grounded and focused on the task at hand, and provide general moral support.

Over the weekend, at the Pritzker Revisit session on Scholarship and Discovery, our own students stated the number one thing to consider when finding a project was finding a great mentor.  How does one find a great mentor?  Well, our students are encouraged to seek “CAPE” mentors- think Superhero mentors.  The mentor should be Capable, Available, have a Project that is of interest to the student, and Easy to get along with.   Capable means that the mentor has the skills to not only be a good mentor, but also to carry out the task or project at hand.  This may sound like odd, but sometimes faculty are so excited to have a medical student work for them, they may make the false assumption that the medical student will help them with tasks (i.e. statistics) that they themselves don’t know.  Availability is especially important as it is the number one reason our students state they had a less than optimal experience in the summer doing scholarly work is that their mentor was not available.  While availability of all doctors is an issue, the question is often whether faculty make themselves available when they can (i.e. answer student email, take phone calls, meetings).  Setting expectations for when and how to meet can be very important.  Ideally, the mentor has a project that is interesting to the student since if the work is not interesting, it will be even harder to make progress.  Last but not least, the mentor has to be easy to get along with – meaning that their style meshes well with their mentees.  Some people simply do not work well together do to different personality types.  So, I often tell our students to consider that when meeting potential mentors or deciding between two mentors.

As I was thinking about ways to highlight effective mentors, I recalled some classic movies with mentoring relationship.  In relooking at these scenes this weekend, it struck me that there are some interesting reasons why they are good mentors that correlate with our model (well some of them are a stretch but they are still fun to watch!).

  • Yoda in Empire Strike Back encourages Luke Skywalker to not just try, but do.  When Luke fails to resurrect the wing fighter, he does not allow Luke to make excuses but instead demonstrates that he can do it showing that he is CAPABLE.  
  • Mr Miyagi with the Karate Kid mentors through teaching small movements related to everyday house chores “wax on, wax off.”  While he is certainly gruff and challenges Daniel, Mr Miyagi also makes himself AVAILABLE to Daniel at that moment and in the future by saying at the end “Come back tomorrow” to continue the training.  
  • Remus Lupin goes so far to use a “simulated” Death Eater to challenge Harry Potter to learn the Patronus charm (and making all standardized patient experiences seem like a cake walk!).  When Harry fails at first, he is patient and nurturing, stating that he did not expect Harry to get it on the first try.  He also makes suggestions to the technique which turn out to be the key.   Since Harry really needs this charm, this is a PROJECT THAT IS OF INTEREST and Harry ultimately succeeds in casting the spell.  
  • Gandelf in Lord of the Rings provides consolation to Frotto during a moment of despair by highlighting that it his job and also showing that Gandelf is sensitive to Frotto’s needs and EASY TO GET ALONG WITH.   

In addition to these highly acclaimed superhero and superstar CAPE mentors, let me know if you know of other model mentors from the movies.

Vineet Arora MD






The Social History: Going Beyond TED

7 02 2012

As I am on service, I realized that one thing that can be easily lost in the race to take care of patients with limited duty hours – the social history.  The social history is part of the admission “history and physical” that once included a myriad of information about the patient’s job, life, and habits has now “fallen into despair” becoming little more than “negative for TED”, or in other words “no tobacco, alcohol (ethanol) or drugs.”

But, there is so much more to it than that.   How do they afford to pay for their housing, food, and medications?  Do they have insurance?   Where do they live?  Who takes care of them or do they take care of someone else?  Do they have friends or family living nearby?   What do they like to do for fun?  Given that most of the ‘discharge planning’ focuses on these elements of the social history, it seems silly that we don’t include more than just no TED.

So, when I was asked by a very astute medical student if I preferred to hear more in the social history, I said yes.   The information that is usually discussed as the patient gets better and we wonder where they will go was now presented on admission, discussed as a problem just like any other medical problem.   In just a few short days, we discerned that a patient who had chronic hypoxia and shortness of breath worked in a factory which likely contributes to his interstitial lung disease.  Another patient who had been hospitalized for alcohol withdrawal recently broke up with a girlfriend which triggered this bout of drinking.   Another patient who was a Jehovah’s Witness would rather have IV therapy for his wound infection than surgery.  Another patient with repeated hypertensive crisis had skipped his medications since he could not afford them.

Given the tremendous burden of costs of medications and the complex interplay between social factors and health, it’s time that we start teaching people to take a thorough social history. Wondering what should go into a thorough social history, I first did what most physicians do – I went online.  It turns out that Wikipedia has an entry on social history for medicine that starts out with the same substance abuse history.  It also includes occupation, sexual preference, prison, and travel.   I stumbled upon another interesting piece by a medical student in the LA Times who admits that it is easy to skimp on the social history due to the time it takes to take a complete history.  After a brief foray in PubMed, A study demonstrated that internal medicine residents do not often know the social history of patients, and this worsens if the resident is more advanced in training and when the workload is higher.  Then, I recalled the seminal text that is still in use today.  According to the Bates Guide to History and Physical Examination:

The Personal and Social History captures the patient’s personality and interests, sources of support, coping style, strengths, and fears. It should include occupation and the last year of schooling; home situation and significant others; sources of stress, both recent and long-term; important life experiences, such as military service, job history, financial situation, and retirement; leisure activities; religious affiliation and spiritual beliefs; and activities of daily living (ADLs). It also conveys lifestyle habits that promote health or create risk such as exercise and diet, including frequency of exercise; usual daily food intake; dietary supplements or restrictions; and safety measures and other devices related to specific hazards. You may want to include any alternative health care practices. You will come to thread personal and social questions throughout the interview to make the patient feel more at ease.

There is another good reason to teach the social history – another study shows that those residents who took better social histories were actually perceived to be more humanistic.  As others stated, “By knowing patients better—and taking better social histories—we will provide better care and will be more fulfilled and energized in our work as physicians.”

–Vineet Arora MD





The Last Summer for Medical Students

12 01 2012

The summer between first year and second year of medical school is sometimes referred to as the “last summer” since it is the last time students can travel or take off before they start the journey towards USMLE Step 1 and then their third year clerkships.  With the angst building, first year medical students are actively deciding in the dead of winter what they will do over the summer.  One popular decision is to do research – this is not uncommon since residency programs are increasingly competitive and look for students who have a commitment to scholarly work.  However, there are a plethora of other things students could do as well.    As tonight is our “Intro to our Summer Research Program” for Pritzker medical students, I thought I would share some of the most common questions I get about the “Last Summer”:

  • Should I do research in a competitive field?   The answer here is to do substantive research that you are interested in with a “CAPE” mentor (Capable, Available, Project interests you, Easy to get along with).   As my premed advisor once told me, “Mickey Mouse” research is not going to look good to anyone (no offense Mickey).   The key is to find something you are passionate about – after all you have to tell this story on your interview trail of why you choose to do this and the answer “because I wanted to go into ortho” is not really that captivating to anyone (even to an orthopedic surgeon).   Instead, if you do something you are passionate about, like community health work, you can always tie it back to your chosen field.  Most residency program directors don’t expect you arrived in medical school with laser like focus towards their field anyway and expect to hear some type of journey or a-ha moment that drew you to their field.  Because competitive specialties are often reimbursed for clinical work and tend to be smaller departments, they depth of research opportunities may be more limited.  But, don’t forget that neuroscience research is relevant to neurosurgery – and oncology research on head and neck cancer is still relevant for ENT and so forth.  The best research is often interdisciplinary and crosses department boundaries so you should not be afraid to either.  It’s also important to remember that as a first year student, it’s hard to even know if you will be competitive for radiation oncology or associated competitive specialties.  You will need killer board scores, and great clinical grades.  So, while you may think securing the research with the Dept Chair will give you an extra ‘edge’, nothing and no one can make up for a poor performance on high stakes exams or clinical rotations.  So, don’t forget to study!
  • I want to go to country X?  How can I get a global health rotation there?  Well, certainly the urge to travel is strong in anyone (including me).  But, you need to separate your travel bug from a genuine interest in global health.  Most global health rotations are not a vacation – and may not be what you think of as “tourist” destination (despite the short-lived popularity of Off the Map).   Maybe your stars are aligned and your school or a nearby affiliate you know has a program near your hot spot of interest.  Usually, however, it is not that easy and you should consider how strong your affinity is for a specific country or location versus your interest in getting the best global health experience possible.  Global health programs that fund medical students are not easy to come by.  So, if you are genuinely interested in global health, it is always better to go with an established program and mentor to get the most substantive experience even if it’s not in the exact country you are interested in.  The other thing to remember is while this may be your last summer for a while; it is not your last vacation!  You will have time to plan a vacation to your designated hot spot if you can’t work it in this summer.
  • Do I have to do anything?  The answer here is easy – no, you don’t have to do anything per se with your ‘time off’.  Many students find themselves on the hamster wheel of endless extracurricular activities.  The real question is what is your goal? If it is to go home and see family and friends, there is nothing wrong with that!  The key is to ensure that you are doing something with your time off that will make you feel ready to face the second year of medical school.   It is easy to forget that there is a lot of time to participate in extracurricular activities at various other points in your medical school career.   The key is that if you will regret not spending time with your friends or family this summer, then you need to make time to do that.
  • What if I want to do everything because I don’t want to close any doors?  This is not an uncommon feeling for medical students. However, its important to remember that your summer work is not choosing a specialty! There is essentially nothing you can do over the summer that will ‘close a door’ – there may be some things that allow you to put your foot further into the doorway but that does not mean another door will close.   The only doors you close are the ones in your mind.   Most students decide on their specialty after their third year rotations and will often fine-tune their experiences in research in that area in the fourth year.   Another thing to consider is to do research in a cross-cutting area like ethics that could apply to everything.  Sometimes the angst you may be feeling is about making a choice that is wrong for you.  However, the truth is that as long as you are genuinely interested in the opportunity, you cannot make a wrong choice since it will be an easy story to tell no matter what you do.  Since everyone is different, it is always good to get individualized advice from a faculty advisor at your school who can comment on your specific career and research goals.

Finally, no matter what you do with your last summer, don’t forget to make sure you enjoy it!

Vineet Arora MD








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