Physicians are exposed to a wide variety of cases that pique our interest. Cases that make you go home and read just a little bit more. Cases that prompt you to seek out your classmates and colleagues for further discussion, or trigger a call to someone from your past. Residents and students often ask, “Should I write this case up?” Our answer is, “Yes!”
Why do we recommend that you write up the case? Much of medical education is a clinical- or case-based exercise. Clinical cases provide context for the principles being taught. We use real cases to point out the nuance in a presentation of a particular illness or the management of a disease.
In clinical conferences, such as morning report or clinical-pathologic conferences (CPCs), we highlight the choices we make as physicians to provide the best care. Respected physicians and master clinicians at our own institutions often lead these discussions, which form the building blocks for how many of us will practice in our careers.
At grand rounds, the best speakers start with a case. These vignettes grab our attention, making us realize the importance of what the speaker teaches us.
The point of these vignettes is to help you develop skills as an author and academician. Since most meetings do not provide any feedback on the review of your submission, outside of “accepted” or “rejected,” it is important to get this from your own institution.
Writing up a vignette will give you a skill set you need. You learn how to select a case, create a “teachable moment,” or hone a series of teaching points. You develop your skills in searching and critically appraising the literature. You become a content expert among your peers. This activity helps you to develop and master the academic skills that will drive your career and will be pivotal in your success.
Follow these eight steps to produce successful clinical vignette submissions:
Be a good doctor, and make the correct diagnosis: Interesting cases will come to you. Don’t chase a zebra on every cough. Don’t send autoimmune panels for every rash. Read about each patient’s case that you see. Use the time to build your clinical acumen and develop your own illness scripts. Through the process of being a thoughtful student of medicine, you will come to distinguish the fascinoma from the merely fleeting infatuation with a diagnosis.
Recognize the good case: The best way to recognize a good case is to appreciate when it excites people locally. If you present it at morning report or CPC, are you inundated with requests to speak more after the conference has finished? Did it stump your colleagues (usually a pretty bright group)? Do you find that the consultants ask for others in their division to come and see the case? Clinically, did it take the team a while to come to the end diagnosis? If any of these are true, then you should move forward.
Perform a literature search: How often does a similar situation arise? Is it 1 in 10,000, 1 in a million, or less? Even a case of 1 in 10,000 can be impactful to read about when you consider how long it may take a physician to see that many patients.
Develop two or three teaching points: Most abstracts for national and regional meetings have a restrictive word limit. When you consider all the information required of a thorough case presentation and adequate discussion, it can seem almost impossible to fit it all in. Start early, at least a month before the deadline if you can, and start big. Determine two or three key teaching points you wish to make. These will serve as your roadmap for the write-up.