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Rapport feature - Growing through reflection

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Oprah would call it an "Aha moment." In the second year course Key Topics in Family Medicine, students are asked to reflect upon and write about a past experience to identify the impact the experience has had on them and how it might shape their paths to becoming physicians.

The week-long, mandatory course utilizes a unique methodology of assessment requiring students to write a self-reflection paper. Through their writing, students gain awareness and clarity of their own learning process and begin to understand how their internal state influences decision-making. The process helps them become better doctors.

Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry is the only medical school in the country to offer a course with dedicated family medicine content in pre-clerkship years. This unique learning experience speaks to the School's proud history of curriculum innovation.

Dr. George Kim, undergraduate academic director, Department of Family Medicine, emphasizes the value of writing skills and self-reflection for medical students today. "Encouraging students to 'think about thinking' will start them on a journey of life-long reflection and awareness."

Tomas Saun's "Aha moment" arose from the reflection and group discussion process within the course. It helped him deal with the suppression of his anger and frustration over losing his brother to cancer. In his reflection paper, Saun wrote:

"As I reflect on my experience since starting medical school, I've realized that one of the most unanticipated challenges has certainly been allowing myself to actually open up to my own feelings, experience them and deal with them, I had never in a million years expected to come to medical school to learn about introspection and reflection, yet without this process I can't imagine where I would be today."

Students can write about an encounter with a patient that changed their way of thinking, an observership that didn't go as expected, or an unanticipated challenge of medical school. They are encouraged to analyze the experience, self-reflect and ask "why?" They are also
expected to determine if they found new meaning in their experience and whether they will feel
differently in a similar situation in the future?

In his reflection, Adrian Wu shared how medical school is teaching him to quiet his competitive drive, and adopt a collaborative outlook valuing teamwork.

"Our focus needs to change from ourselves to our patients; we need to change from striving for only individual excellence to examining how we can contribute to taking the best care of patients collectively as providers in a comprehensive health care system."

Sometimes it can be a single moment that, upon reflection, sparks awareness and empathy. Thomas Shi reflects about not knowing the location of his observership room assignment in the hospital and how it might mirror the anxiety and fear of patients in the sterile hospital environment:

"The phrase patient-centred care is often heard in the medical setting. Is patient-centred care restricted to the patient in the ward or the O.R.? No, it starts when the patient, the family steps into the medical setting. […] What relieves the patient of frustration and anxiety? It's not just medications and surgeries, it's the small acts of kindness […]. In an increasingly complex health care field, involving many different specialties of health care workers in complex
settings, we must not forget that the needs of the patient goes beyond the time they spend in
the ward. We must actively make an effort to comprehend how they are coping, not just with their condition, but with the health care system."

Dr. Kim can not emphasize enough the value of growth through reflection. He explains "the school that helps students see this, and learn how to navigate these thoughts and emotions, will be graduating the star physicians of tomorrow. The programs that have figured this out are on the cusp of the educational evolution."

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