I remember the first test I failed. It was an immunology exam that I took about halfway through my first year of medical school. Seeking some solace, I asked a classmate for advice. His snarky response was, “Why don’t you try NOT sleeping through the class?”
He did have a point, but I couldn’t help it. The professor was so incredibly boring. I couldn’t understand why he would spend so long talking about a study performed decades ago involving injecting mice with bacteria. How would this make me a good doctor?
I quickly found the solution to my problem: I had to stop going to class. Imagine that? The best way for me to get a medical education was NOT attending the courses–at least this particular course. It turns out I learned a lot better reading by the pool in sunny Southern California than in that big lecture hall. I soon discovered that many of my classmates were doing the same thing. Some read the textbooks at home or at a coffee shop. Some bought entirely different textbooks on the same subject. Some bought audio tapes for a particular subject. Of course some did prefer the classroom. In the end, we all passed.
Spending 4 years in college and 4 more in medical school makes you extremely sensitive to the lecturer’s delivery of the material. We spend years sitting in large groups in dark rooms quietly listening to someone on some stage talking at us. These days, most lecturers are reading off slides and within the first minute, you know what you’ve got yourself into.
Why do we subject our learners to someone standing behind a podium reading slides for an hour? Why do we think this works? Most likely it’s because very few people know there is a better way of doing things.
Our ultrasound instructor in medical school, Dr Chris Fox, likes to talk about “flipping the classroom.” Prior to our ultrasound didactics, he would give us access to an online podcast for the scanning technique of the day. We could watch it in pieces or all at once and we could watch it at any time and however many times we wanted. Best of all, we could pause, rewind and fast forward. We would then show up for a brief lecture consisting of a 5- to 10-minute review of the podcast where we could ask questions. Then we split up into groups to practice scanning.
That’s what I call efficient. And fun.
I’m now in charge of teaching my co-residents the same ultrasound skills I learned in medical school. Problem is, I don’t have a podcast series of lectures. In fact, I started with no lectures at all. Truth is, I could have devoted hours creating engaging, interesting, and effective PowerPoint slides. But, why should I reinvent the wheel when colleagues of mine from around the world have already developed these presentations? If I could use those, then I could focus on what I do best, which is teach the hands-on components.
Thank goodness for FOAM (Free Online Access Meducation). The term was coined in 2012 in the emergency medicine community and Life in the Fastlane has a whole page dedicated to its history and explanation.
Essentially, FOAM is a growing movement to provide high-quality and FREE medical education materials online for anyone to use. It’s a dream come true for any educator. Time to give a lecture? You could spend hours throwing together 60 slides for a lecture, but somebody else has already done it, and they’re REALLY good at it. Let them teach the lecture so you can use your time to practice and reinforce. Whether it’s an ultrasound technique or reviewing how to work up and treat chest pain, the principle is the same.
For me, using FOAM to teach residents is a lifesaver. Walking a learner through the machine and the exam technique comes natural to those with experience. Putting together a presentation to introduce it all to a big group requires time that I don’t always have. Plus, my proficiency in PowerPoint is limited and producing high-quality videos and images with overlaid anatomy takes considerable time, assuming you know how to do it.
Many of us know about FOAM resources already, probably just not the name. The Ultrasound Podcast is a fantastic resource with educational videos and challenges. There is also a smartphone app called One Minute Ultrasound for Apple and Android phones, which is a great on-the-go resource. The American Academy of Emergency Medicine (ACEP) runs Sonoguide.com with a whole host of resources. Another great resource is Sonomojo.org, which is a collection of FOAM resources for ultrasound. AIUM offers free resources and practice guidelines as well as teaching tools for members.
So let’s stop putting our students to sleep and start engaging them on their own terms. Give them the resources then use your time more effectively to get practical and work on procedural skills or problem solving. FOAM is there to guide the way.
How do you make your presentations engaging? Do you use any FOAM resources with teaching? If so, have you found it useful? Have questions about the future of FOAM? Comment below or let us know on Twitter: @AIUM_Ultrasound.
David Flick is a 3rd year family medicine resident at Tripler Army Medical Center. He received 4 years of ultrasound training at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine. He currently runs the resident ultrasound curriculum and is an outspoken proponent for ultrasound training in the primary care specialties.