Challenging teaching methods in Orthopedics

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In just about a year and half of teaching orthopedic residents, I became interested in finding out which of the more familiar teaching styles works best for our crop of trainees. Honestly, I’m still continually experimenting.

The unique set up with which medical-surgical training programs thrive is continually changing. With the influx of medical information everyday, a program has to adapt to the call of time and for greater efficiency in preparing this ‘padawans into full pledged surgeons.It is not simple as it seems however since in this unique set up and unlike the usual academic, lab rat experimentation, a mistake might cost someone else life.

The “Master-Apprentice” method ( probably the more popular and is what I’m familiar with) involves  the “master” (attendings) showing the “apprentice” (residents) his way of doing things (skill) for a certain given situation or problem. Such teacher-student relationship is basically anchored on the assumption that the master is more experienced and adept than apprentice. This is usually an “I teach, you follow” approach to learning. One advantage of this approach is the specific skill imparted by the master to his apprentice for any given orthopedic problem. The obvious disadvantage is its limited applicability and the temptation to spoon feed a resident.

The rapid influx of modern technology and a deluge scientific evidence paved the way for a more radical, and holistic approach to learning in orthopedics. To the end of my training I was deliberately hammered by mentors to think rather than learn a specific skill, to criticize the validity of any information presented and above all, develop a logical framework for decision making process in any given orthopedic problem. Skills and techniques came in later as my mentors believe that modern technology will techniques change every 5 or so years. I am not an expert on education or teaching styles, but the latter method seems to work best for me. To my understanding, this sort of teaching style fall into the Socratic method of teaching. I’m really not interested into that. What I’m interested now is, if it’ll work too for my residents?

In every opportunity I have with our residents, be it conferences and pre ops, I focus on continually challenging their minds,  make them think harder, analyze a given situation,  criticize an evidence, present facts properly and then develop a sound decision making process. Obviously, I’m not a fan of residents trying to impress attendings with techniques and implants when he can barely utter a word on the biomechanics involved in those implants. Often, the common excuse for residents (this is awful) is the absence of patients  logistics and financial support common among government hospitals. I actually do not contest that. What we want for residents however, is to incorporate these specifics into his decision making process so he can plan ahead for his patients surgery Lastly, I wanted my residents to empathize with their patients. One common question I throw in during pre-ops is this

If you we’re the patient, what would you want your surgeon do to you?

 Usually this type of questioning gives the residents an idea as to the best option for the patient!

All of these teaching style have one thing in come though. To pass on knowledge to the new generation of orthopedic surgeons . In short, were training them to be surgeons not residents.

Will these teaching style work for our current residents? Personally, I don’t know.Not yet, but perhaps in the future.

Dr. Remo-tito Aguilar co-founded #HealthXPh. A board certified orthopedic surgeon, he is Chief of Clinics at General Santos Medical Center and Medical Specialist II Orthopedics at the Southern Philippines Medical Center in Davao City. Dr. Aguilar is a healthcare social media evangelist and writes his medical musings at The Cast & Curious (