So far, Dr. Law has built a small library of cases and conducted a few pilot decision-based learning classes. A handful of students have gone through the curriculum and many of them say the classes were a wonderful educational experience.
J.P. Gorham, a medical student at Emory, says he appreciated that the classes highlighted the importance of being thorough and open minded about a potential diagnosis. “I think the decision-based learning activity gives everyone access to excellent clinically focused teaching outside of the clinic,” he explains. “So it’s a classroom activity, but really it feels akin to my best clinical experience.”
Russell Dolan, another medical student at Emory, says he valued the lessons learned about being economical with tests and exams when trying to diagnose a patient. “It makes you think about whether you actually need a test that costs $5,000. If you can make the diagnosis with a different, more affordable test, you can save a lot of costs,” he says.
Dolan also says the decision-based learning classes were an effective way to learn. “It really stimulated your mind to work through the case as opposed to just passively listening to a lecture.”
Gorham agrees, explaining, “If you force students to engage with each other and also engage with other concepts actively during organized educational time, I think you’re going to have a much higher yield on that education time. That is something that, as a busy med student, I really value.”
Dr. Law hopes to implement and start studying the curriculum by September. If all goes well, she says she would love to build more cases, including a series focused on rheumatology. “Students don’t get a lot of rheumatology cases with patients on the wards. So it’s a nice way to highlight some of the things that we do and help the students learn about that and prepare them for their exams.”
Dr. Law hopes to share the curriculum and cases with other institutions to encourage future doctors to learn about rheumatology and help more medical students better develop their decision-making and critical-thinking skills. “The hope is that they will be more focused in working up a patient, which would result in a more efficient hospital stay, decreased cost of testing and much more efficient weighing of the evidence so they can develop the best treatment plan possible for their patients.”
Dr. Law says she is extremely grateful to the Rheumatology Research Foundation for providing the support and funding that will allow her to see this project through. “I think it really is an impressive statement for the Foundation to invest in medical education where we intuitively know that the work we do has these downstream effects that are not as clear and certainly aren’t as linear, but the long-term investment may be more broadly reaching and will have a positive effect in many unquantifiable ways.”