PBL: A Primer for the Novice
Excuse me for a moment while I shed a tear of joy and re-read the previous sentence to myself 100 times.
OK, I'm back. Having been through almost two full years of weekly PBL sessions, I think I've learned a lot about how these things work, what constitutes good behavior, and, more frequently, what constitutes bad behavior. So as a public service to all, and to continue my ever-alarming rate of procrastination on the impending set of finals, I have created an important list of Do's and Dont's to help future medical students contribute to the enriching learning experience that is PBL...by which I mean to teach them not be such annoying assholes all the time (a losing battle, I know, but a noble one):
DO: volunteer at least once to be the scribe (aka the schmuck who has to keep track of all the stupid things people say and write them down on the white board). Volunteer?!? Have I been kidnapped and replaced by…well…any sane person in his class?!? But seriously, this can actually be fun - when that moron in your class says something stupid, you can just give him/her a look and/or totally ignore the idea. This also means shooting down stupid learning issue ideas, and having the chance to write so illegibly that people just give up and you can draw whatever you want on the board for your own amusement (as an example of what I have used the scribe board for, you can view my rendition of the human body that kept me from getting skipped past second grade here). And there's no better way to guarantee not falling asleep in a classroom with eight other people than being forced to stand up for the entire time (feel free to ask my roommate how falling asleep in a small classroom of eight people turns out).
DO NOT: volunteer other people to be the scribe on multiple occasions. What kind of schmuck does something like this? The kind that goes to medical school, apparently. I'm dying here.
DO: make a contribution or hypothesis when you have something intelligent to say, which, given the material they give you, can only happen a maximum of three times per session. There is so much to these cases that is either obvious or completely unintelligible at the onset; given this, there are really only a few things that any of us can comment on given our level of knowledge. However, you may be shocked (shocked!) to learn that this is not quite as common-sense as you'd think, which leads naturally to…
DO NOT: feel the need to say something every five minutes. This could include drawing on your time as an experienced EMT (asshole) or that one time you had a cold (moron). This also goes for showboating about how rich you are. If we’re on a case at all dealing with muscles and you start off a sentence with “I feel like I can sympathize with these patients because this one time I was hanging out in this country club with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver…”, just end it. You know who you are. Maybe Daddy can buy you first class tickets to Vail, or even an Oompa Loopma, but he sure as hell can't buy you half a brain.
DO: pay attention to the name of the patient if you want to look smart. Huh? Well if your medical school is as academically questionable as mine, you may find that hidden in the name of the patient’s initials or actual name is the clue to figuring out the disease at hand. I wish I was joking, but we had an entire block of this crap not too long ago. So if Herman I. Venereal or Drinky McAlcoholic presents to you in the form of a PBL case, save your group the suspense and make the diagnosis on Part I. And yes, people like me trained under this method of education will be diagnosing and operating on you in the near future.
DO NOT: intentionally give other people more work to do. This has actually happened to me on multiple occasions. Everyone gets their learning issue (an assigned topic to be researched and presented to the group in the concluding session for a given case) at the end of the first session, and someone thinks of something else they want to be looked up. The topic mildly, vaguely, BARELY relates to my topic. And some prick decides it’s ok to say something like “well, it is very similar to what you are doing, so would you mind adding an additional learning issue and look up that stuff as well?” The hopeful eyes of an entire group, doctor included, turn in your direction, leaving you with either the option of sucking it up and taking the assignment or “not being a team player.” Maybe this is why I was never good at sports.
(Quick aside: Issues of being a team player notwithstanding, I was probably never really good at sports because, despite my six-foot height, I am afflicted with a serious case of Jew. Thus, I peaked athletically at age 10, batting 1.000 in a Jewish baseball league against Orthodox Jewish kids half my height. Paul Young Sports Camp Hall of Fame sucka!!!)
DO: pay attention when you are copy-and-pasting learning issues. While there is no reason to re-write whatever AccessMedicine has already condensed to perfection, don’t be that moron in your group who is copy-and-pasting from different sources with glee, only to not notice that everything is in different fonts. That’s just blatant and poor form. And if there’s one thing I won’t stand for, it is poor form when cutting corners.
DO NOT: be an ethnically or racially insensitive asshole. OK, so it turns out that Ashkenazi Jews are predisposed to any number of horrifically terrible genetic diseases. But if you feel the need to stare at me, or my equally pasty brethren, every time Tay-Sachs or Crohn’s Disease is brought up in PBL, I’m going to do what any self-respecting Jew would do and…call my lawyer. Asshole. This same logic applies to diseases that other racial or ethnic groups are predisposed to. Hey, moron, no need to stare at the African-American girl in our group for two hours when we’re talking about sickle cell disease. I’m pretty sure she knows she’s black.
(And just in case any nice Jewish girls are reading this, I am disease free! And tall. And at least marginally good looking, depending on who you ask.)
Well, I hope this has been useful – I know there’s more where this came from, I’m just too tired to think of it at the moment. Now, having procrastinated for a solid 30 minutes writing this instead of studying for finals, I guess it’s time to get back to work.