AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
For most students starting medical school, the first year can mean a lot of time in a lecture hall. But when the new class of medical students begins at the University of Vermont next week, a lot of that learning won't be done with a professor standing at the front of a room.
WILLIAM JEFFRIES: I should point out that no one loves lectures better than I do.
CORNISH: Is that sarcasm? (Laughter).
Dr. William Jeffries is one of the medical school's deans, and that wasn't sarcasm.
JEFFRIES: There - there's two books out there that are pretty prominent on how to be a teacher in medical school. And actually, I am the author of the chapter on lectures in both books.
CORNISH: So it might come as a surprise that Dr. Jeffries is leading an effort at the University of Vermont's medical school to get rid of lectures by 2019. I asked him why.
JEFFRIES: We're finding out a lot from the neuroscience of learning that the brain needs to accumulate the information but then also organize it and create an internal story that makes the knowledge make sense. 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.
CORNISH: Give us an example of a topic in terms of how it would be taught in a traditional lecture versus how it would be taught in the model you're planning to use moving forward.
JEFFRIES: So a good example would be the teaching of what we would call pharmacokinetics. Pharmacokinetics is the science of drug delivery. A lot of the science of pharmacokinetics is simply mathematical equations. And if you have a lecture, it's simply presenting those equations and maybe giving examples of how they work in an active learning setting, you expect the students to learn about the equations before they get there.
And when you get into the classroom setting, the students work in groups, solving pharmacokinetics problems. So cases are presented where the patient gets a drug in a certain dose at a certain time. And those are the types of things where you're expecting the student to know the knowledge in order to use the knowledge. And then they don't forget it.
CORNISH: You've already started paring down the amount of lectures that make up the curriculum. You don't have to name names, but has there been any pushback?
JEFFRIES: Certainly we've gotten some pushback. But what I tell the average clinical faculty member is that, OK, if you like doing appendectomies using an old method because you like it and you're really good at it but it's really not the best method for the patient, would you do it? And of course the answer is always no. And then you turn around and say, well, this method of teaching is actually not as good as other methods; would you do that? When confronted with a question like that, medical faculty typically tend to understand and agree.
CORNISH: Dr. Jeffries, I just want to ask one more thing. You mention having written this chapter on lecturing (laughter) as a classroom tool.
CORNISH: Are you kind of bummed?
JEFFRIES: (Laughter) Well, I am sorry that I have to give up the Bill Jeffries show. And when I get up and give lectures, that is a great source of personal enjoyment. But I think when you start to do active learning methods, you can see the input that the students are giving each other, and it can be a very rewarding experience either way.
CORNISH: And in the end, the goal is to have better doctors, right? And that's where you think this is headed.
JEFFRIES: So the fiduciary responsibility of the medical school is to patients. And so we are bound by a code and by a bond with our patients that we will always try to produce the best doctors. And if that means changing our teaching methods, then we'll certainly do that.
CORNISH: Well, Dr. William Jeffries, thank you so much for speaking with us.
JEFFRIES: Thank you, Audie.
CORNISH: Dr. William Jeffries is senior associate dean for medical education at the University of Vermont's Larner College of Medicine.
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