Three members of the St. George’s University faculty recently presented at the 2014 Association of Medical Educators of Europe (AMEE) conference in Milan, Italy, joining thousands of participants from 90 countries worldwide who shared their knowledge and expertise in education in the fields of medicine, veterinary medicine, nursing, and dentistry.
Dr. Nitsa Topale, Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine and Coordinator of the Individual Advancement/Program for Academic Success in the Department of Educational Services (DES), presented her research on how strategies used by high-achieving students can help new and underachieving students succeed, in her poster titled: “Standing Out From the Rest: How Do Wellness, Engagement, and Management of Cognitive Demands Contribute to the Success of our Best Students?”
“High-achieving students are indeed doing the very things student support professionals recommend,” said Dr. Topale. “They share a similar profile with respect to exercise, sleep, time management, stress level, lecture attendance, and their approach to learning and self-assessment. These students can be the link between what faculty and the literature indicate medical students should be doing to succeed, and what successful students are actually doing. They can serve as peer mentors and contribute to student success initiatives.”
One unique aspect of the AMEE conference is the fringe presentation. With varied formats, the 15-minute presentations provide new and provocative or idiosyncratic approaches to medical education with an emphasis on creativity, performance, and audience engagement. Dr. Robert Hage delivered one such presentation titled “Do as You Should Do and Forget What You Saw or Heard.”
Dr. Hage’s presentation dealt with how educators often display habits different to the ones they advise students to cultivate. “We teach students what they are supposed to do but soon afterward they may realize that we don’t do what we tell them to do,” he said. His presentation encouraged observing the habits of colleagues but doing so critically and being able to explain the reasons for one’s actions. It also emphasized the importance of observation and teaching students to be observant.
Dr. Bill Blunt presented a poster of research done along with Dr. Andre Havenga and Dr. Topale titled “Ten Approaches to Academic Development for the Basic Medical Sciences: Achieving Quality with Large Classes.” Developed after critical analysis of best practices by the Department of Education Services (DES) and other SGU departments, the team found that larger class sizes do not compromise learning when an entire university community adopts strategies to support student learning autonomy.
“The poster summarized the enormous range of ways in which SGU helps students,” said Dr. Blunt, Deputy Chair, Director of Faculty Development, and Professor at DES. “SGU has developed a unique student support program that focuses on developing students’ autonomy and resilience rather than support strategies that encourage dependency. Of course, our strategies do not aim to make it easy for students. There’s no easy way through medical school.”
The foundation of the SGU approach is to build the resilience and strength of students, putting the responsibility for learning back on the students. “In truth, students who don’t get to the point of being self-driven in medical school usually won’t make it through,” continued Dr. Blunt. “We work to ensure our students develop this skill early on rather than leaving them to learn it on their own.”
The 10 strategies highlighted through the research are geared to successfully engage and empower students to take control of their own learning through self management, problem solving, reflective thinking, and collaborative learning. Academic development strategies include providing adequate orientation for students, development of learning strategies for students in large classes, and expert academic advice and early intervention and remediation.