By: Neel Sharma, MBChB, MSc, clinical research fellow in gastroenterology, National University Hospital, Singapore
During a recent faculty development program for health educators, I joined a diverse group of participants, some of significant seniority, with varying levels of academic responsibility and status. At first I felt slightly out of place, as a newbie to the education world. My perspective was one of a medical trainee on the receiving end of educational reform. It was interesting however to witness the participants’ frustration at times with their learners. They commented on the lack of active participation in their classes and expressed the belief that the Socratic method of questioning was still very much key to medical education.
Kost and Chen’s recent article on “pimping” in medical education proved particularly timely in this regard. During the faculty development program, those tasked with teaching participants about topics such as curriculum design, assessment strategies, research methodology, and program evaluation to name but a few, not once used the Socratic approach. Instead they valued participants’ ideas and allowed them to lead the discussions. They also provided time for self-reflection and problem solving, offering relevant feedback and ensuring interaction among the group. As a result, participants like myself were placed in a safe learning environment. Although discussion was very much voluntary, participants frequently asked questions about the educational theory we were learning because they felt at ease enough among their peers to admit when they did not understand a concept. I certainly felt at home, and the resulting discussions proved invaluable.
Kost and Chen alluded to the advantages of this approach in their article. I wonder if the faculty development program had adopted a more stringent Socratic approach, if senior participants were quizzed on aspects of education in an obscure and ultimately unanswerable fashion designed to hinder critical thinking, we would have achieved the same positive outcomes. I hope that the other participants not only learned about the topics of the program but also about the benefits of its format, like I did. And I hope that they take those lessons back to their own classrooms. Perhaps then we will see the end of “pimping” in medical education.