By Wendy Sarubbi | October 15, 2010 12:00 am

A College of Medicine poster on an innovative way to teach students about psychosocial issues in health care recently won first place from the Association for Academic Psychiatry.

The poster documented how College of Medicine students learn about issues such as changing patient behavior, giving patients bad news, patient-physician boundaries, coping with stress and alcohol abuse.

“This is a course that first-year students traditionally hate,” said Associate Dean Marcy Verduin, one of the poster’s authors. “They see this as ‘soft’ science, touchy-feely topics. If they have the choice to study Anatomy or Behavioral Sciences, they often pick Anatomy.”

But the College of Medicine team created the course with a multidisciplinary faculty team and a process of Team Based Learning (TBL). Students took an individual quiz at the beginning of each class to motivate them to complete their assigned readings and come to class prepared. Then they broke into small groups and discussed and debated their answers. This allowed the team members to teach each other, and the groups competed to see which one scored the highest on a team quiz.

Rather than lecture on a topic such as “death and dying,” the instructor’s role was to guide the discussion so that students could learn “what to do with the knowledge they have,” Dr. Verduin said. “The information is relevant because no matter what specialty our students enter they are going to have to deal with the psychosocial problems their patients have.”

Some of those issues can be challenging. For example, in one class, students had to debate how to handle the situation if one of their colleagues is impaired by drug or alcohol use. They also have to deal with difficult topics including how to deliver the news that a family member has died, how to respond when they suspect domestic violence or child abuse, and how to maintain the integrity of the doctor-patient relationship while experiencing very real emotions themselves.

Dr. Verduin said she was “thrilled” with the first-place honor and what it means to the College of Medicine’s reputation. “We have talked all along about our innovative curriculum,” she said. “This recognition shows that others are recognizing our efforts.”

Other members of the team that submitted the poster included Dr. Rebecca Moroose, Dr. Nasreen Malik, Andrea Berry, Virginia Bagley and Moshe Feldman.

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