Category Archives: Education

Has the Influence of Harry Potter Spread to Medical Education?

As the semester comes to a close, it’s not unusual to see clusters of seniors chatting eagerly about how they’re going to spend their last summer before starting medical school. According to a study done in 2006 by the Mayo clinic, students that enter medical school with mental health profiles similar to their college peers. Although they spend their next few years training and studying on how to improve the health of others, they tend to disregard their own in the process. Reports show decreased attention to getting adequate sleep, meals, recreation and show higher rates of mental distress as student’s progress through medical school.  Sadly, the same study has also shown that depressed students are less likely to reach out for help because of the stigma surrounding mental illness.

With the worrisome consequences of depression in medical students including possible burnout and increased rate of contemplated suicide, it is important to contemplate how a change in culture within the medical school environment can be brought about to tackle some of the stigma surrounding mental illness.

So, what can we do to bring about this change?

Lisolette Dyrbe, M.D., and the lead author of the Mayo study, has encouraged a lot of conversation about the issue.

“It’s certainly important for the student to learn the right coping strategies, time management skills, and stress reduction techniques. All of that is important, but it is not the entire answer. We also have to look at school-level initiatives. There needs to be organizational change.” 

So, how are institutions responding?

Including pass/fail options for courses, reducing volume of course material, and giving students more opportunities to work and teach outside the hospital are just some of the ways that universities are working to lessens the stressful burden on patients. Many programs also provide mandatory resilience and mindfulness courses that teach coping mechanisms and stress management techniques. In addition, other universities have incorporated confidential web sites and hot lines for counseling, hired mental health experts, and have developed elective courses in health and wellness.

But, is this really helping?

Recent studies have examined these changes and have identified an important problem: students aren’t participating. Despite the good intentions of the universities and resources provided to the students, only a few seem to be taking advantage of these opportunities and these, more than likely, aren’t the ones that are in real need of care.

One program, though, has been able to show some success.

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The Student Wellness Program at Vanderbilt medical school, which provides a variety of health and wellness activities, has been seen to improve the health of students by effectively partnering and empowering the medical students themselves into organizing and promoting their own health and interests. The program has allowed the students to be divided into four “colleges,” similar to the Hogwarts houses in Harry Potter, that allow the students to connect and organize activities that provide an outlet outside of the classroom. Dr. Scott Rodgers, the associate dean of medical student affairs describes the aim of the program perfectly and outlines the importance of health and happiness for these students.

“It’s a challenge for anyone to stay healthy and happy. But when doctors are able to stay healthy and happy, that means patients get physicians who are more compassionate and selfless. They end up with doctors who really have the energy to invest time in them.” 

As undergraduate students pursuing careers in medicine, this discussion brings up some interesting conversations. What can we do to better prepare ourselves for medical school going forward? Are there ways that we can contribute to not only helping ourselves and our peers reduce stigma surrounding mental illness but also to improve health within the medical community?




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Final Thoughts about the Medical Media Arts Lab



Last night was our final critique of our semester in Medical Media Arts Lab. It’s been a incredible journey being able to see a simple idea turn into a feasible project in just a few short months!

Here have been my three biggest takeaways:

1. Having a passion is so important. Many times throughout the semester I would feel discouraged or unmotivated, especially in the beginning when we were trying to figure out what exactly was the question we were trying to answer. Were we trying to make an exhibit to educate people about artificial heart technology or to tell the untold story of Dr. Akers’ contribution? After the first critique many of the comments expressed the same. But as Mijin mentioned in our presentation, it was the passion and excitement of the audience members during our first presentation that made us realize we had something bigger on our hands than we expected and helped us go back to the drawing board and see our problem in a different light. It was also encouraging each time we conducted an oral history interview with the individuals involved in the artificial heart project in the 1960’s. They each were so willing to share their story and eager to see it come to life in the present day, and the energy was contagious. Without a passion and an intrinsic motivation to continue, this project wouldn’t be happening.

2. Teamwork is essential. Our prototype and ideas honestly wouldn’t have come this far without the team I was in. Emily is an amazing speaker and hard worker, Mijin has valuable resources and skills with capturing stories from the past, and I contribute with my skills in digital media. This can be applied beyond the scope of our project into the subject of healthcare as well. All semester we’ve been talking about how to improve the communication, through whatever medium, between physician and patient. We’ve been talking about changing the conversation of the physician-patient relationship from the patient being a passive follower to the patient having an active voice and contribution to the dialogue about their healthcare. This can only happen if both the patient and doctor see themselves as a team rather than two opposing sides of a problem.

3. Start with Why. This is technically taken from Simon Sinek’s TED talk, but it’s been a common critique through the design process and practicing our presentations as well. Each time we’ve come up with a cool idea for a display we wanted to include in the exhibit, we were always stopped and asked “Why?” Would implementing this idea bring us closer to our goal, or do we want to add it because it looks cool? I saw the same principle applied in the other projects as well as they gave their final critiques. Many of the other teams designed a mobile app as part of their solution to their problem, but I liked how the ICU team recognized that although using an iPad to display information about rounds would be cool and in line with the digital health literacy trends of today, the current limitations of technology suggest that using a more traditional medium like a giant display screen would suit their problem’s needs a lot better.

I’m so thankful to my team members, our amazing problem-owners Dr. Grande-Allen and Dr. Igo, Dr. Ostherr and the teaching team, and all the individuals who helped us get to where we are today. I’ll be graduating this semester and moving to a different city so my contribution to our Artificial Hearts Project has come to an end, but it’s been an honor to be a part of this amazing process, and I can’t wait to visit when the exhibition opens!

Resurrecting PowerPoint in Medical Education

I recently visited one of my teachers from high school and was greatly amused to see her teaching class from an archaic overhead projector.  I did not understand why, in a world with so much innovative technology, she had opted to use such outdated equipment. The experience caused me to ponder the extent to which technology has become integrated in our culture, and how this has affected the increasing role of multimedia software in education.


Tools like PowerPoint, podcasts, video tutorials, etc., offer new and innovative teaching methods and possibilities. As a result, these technologies are used so frequently that it has become almost more unusual for a professor NOT to use some sort of multimedia tool in conjunction with their lecture. PowerPoint, especially, has become a popular multimedia resource for professors because of its ease of access and ability to streamline information into bullet-pointed lists.

While the software offers a variety of options for presenting and configuring information in many different ways, most professors still opt for the classic bullet-point format. We have all had that professor who lectures quickly, flipping through plain slides overloaded with text, resulting in a mad rush to record the information. Ultimately, this leads to confusion and the propagating of washed-out expressions and bored students.  Sadly this detrimental practice is so common that researchers have named the phenomenon, “death by PowerPoint.”


If this is the case, then how is the use of PowerPoint as an educational tool any better than my teacher’s antiquated, boring overhead projector?

Medical education provides an extremely high stress environment where students must learn enormous amounts of information in a limited amount of time. In such a high-stake atmosphere, improvements in the effectiveness of educational tools like PowerPoint could have a massive effect on the education of our country’s upcoming physicians.

So, are there ways to improve the use of PowerPoint and other multimedia tools to make them better resources for imparting information to students?


Example of Adapted Powerpoint Slide

Research done by Richard E. Mayer has directly addressed many of these questions. Mayer has established a number of theories and principles regarding design and implementation strategies of multimedia educational materials through his work with evidence-based education materials. Both his and supporting research has shown that incorporation of Mayer’s multimedia design strategies involving college-level students showed increases in short-term retention of information. In addition, current research has shown that incorporation multimedia (similar to Mayer’s design) led to an increase in the short-term retention of information by medical students.

Preliminary evidence has shown that PowerPoint and its use can be redeemed, but still leaves many questions unanswered:

(1) Is there a possibility of improving multimedia presentation to improve long-term information retention?

(2) Do the use of multimedia tools improve student’s ability to incorporate information into a clinical setting?



Mayer, R. Multimedia Learning, 2nd edn. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press 2009.


A New Approach to Treating Mental Illnesses

While we often think of new applications of medical technology as having vast implications for the treatment of many diseases, mental illnesses are often left out the discussion. This exists due to the deeply ingrained stigma in our culture that mental illnesses are not “real” diseases. However recent advances in technology have had a large influence on addressing the stigma of mental illness and providing new treatment approaches for mental illnesses.

One of the greatest impacts of new technology on mental illnesses is creating an online forum where people feel comfortable discussing their illness and can connect with others who are living with the same illness. While technology enables this for a variety of illnesses, it is especially important for mental illnesses because people with a mental illness can often feel isolated and feel pressure to hide their illness. Reading the stories of others, who are facing the same type of struggles, can encourage someone to seek treatment. The information available online creates an open dialogue in which we all can become better educated on mental illness, which will hopefully begin to break down the stigma ingrained in our culture.


New advances in technology are also impacting the treatment for various mental illnesses. One particular multimedia program that is garnering attention is called Virtual Reality, and was developed for patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The program is based on exposure therapy, and uses specially programmed computers to create an artificial environment designed to be similar to scenarios a veteran experienced during combat. This program has also been shown to reduce a number of phobias, including arachnophobia, by having patients work their way through various scenarios that include their phobia, thus becoming more accustomed to their fear.


Future advances for the treatment of mental illnesses might involve applications that sense when a user’s mood is changing or if the user is in a high-risk situation. Mood could be tracked using physiological measures, and could signal a potential manic or depressed state. Location could be correlated to mood, and send a comforting or alerting message to the user if they are in an area where they normally experience high stress. For example, if a phone detects someone who has been diagnosed with depression with a predisposition towards alcoholism buying alcohol alone late at night, it could alert a family member to check on their loved one. While promising, these new features lead to many privacy and security concerns.  Although it might seem easier to limit the app to solely the patient, allowing the patient’s family and friends to be part of the treatment plan is essential, especially for mental illnesses.

While technological innovations for the treatment of mental illness are advancing rapidly, the technology out there lags behind many other “typical” diseases. Hopefully, even more innovative treatment approaches will soon be created, creating a brighter future for the treatment of mental illnesses.

Too Much of a Good Thing

A recent article published in the Argus Leader from Sioux Falls, SD highlights the difficulty that parents face in controlling their children’s internet usage. The article cites research by a distinguished pediatrician that determined social media can have a very negative impact on children. Heavy media use can be a detriment to a child’s health and social life. Therefore it is imperative that parents find a way to limit their child’s exposure to media on the internet and social media. Unfortunately many parents are not as savvy as their children when it comes to the internet so they do not understand the risks involved and potential consequences of excessive use. Nor do they know how to limit use or how much limitation is sufficient. Clearly children need to utilize the internet as a source of information and mental stimulation so it is crucial parents know where and when to cut down on internet use.

Some side effects associated with excessive exposure to the internet are lack of sleep and poor nutrition. Children need eight to ten hours of sleep a night and a balanced diet in order to develop properly and avoid health complications in the future. The internet acts as an escape and a distraction from normal life so kids these days spend more time indoors than ever before. They are also affected socially as interaction with others online hampers their face to face communication skills and ability to empathize. Substituting electronic for real life personal interaction leads to a poor understanding of facial expressions, tone and nuance in everyday conversation.


Due to these mal-effects of the internet on a child’s life it is imperative that parents limit online usage. As the author of the article points out, unfortunately parents do not understand the internet and mobile applications very well, often less than their children. Therefore, parents need to establish communication with the children in order to further their understanding and protect their children. This necessary role reversal makes for an interesting modern family dynamic.

As we move through this class trying to increase the use of mobile technologies and the internet to better patient care it is important to remember that there are physical and mental side effects associated with it. Every solution no matter how beneficial contains inherent negative side effects. We also need to understand that the baby boomer generation is not as well versed in technology as our generation. Therefore when designing solutions to issues in healthcare that involve the internet and media we must teach rather than simply provide. Overall tech literacy must be increased or else our solutions will remedy little and confound many.

Argus Leader Article:



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