By Jeff Kraakevik, M.D.
I recently became the co-course director for the neuroscience and behavior class for the second year medical students. This course stretches nine weeks, and covers topics ranging from basic anatomy of the nervous system to how to treat common conditions like stroke and depression. We have four hours of material to cover every day for that two-month stretch. We’re just starting week three of this endeavor. I thought I’d use this space to lay out a few reflections on my experiences.
So far, I’ve learned that my colleague Dr. Mello is an invaluable asset to the course. When I was first approached to consider running the course, I insisted that I work as a co-director with a basic science researcher. What has developed as we have been working on the course is a synergistic relationship where he and I are truly modeling for the students how to function as a team. He has a much deeper foundation in the basic science topics related to the brain, and I have a deeper foundation in the clinical and practical applications of that science data. This melding of practical experience and knowledge of current best clinical evidence with the theoretical and experimental knowledge of current bench research is what has always driven medicine forward. I hope the students see the value of this vital link which exists uniquely at academic medical centers.
I’ve also learned once again how dedicated the students training today are to pushing themselves as hard as they can to gain the necessary tools to work as your physician in the future. It astounds me how much they are capable of accomplishing in relatively short periods of time. Not that this is not a journey without angst and some trepidation. But, it is worthwhile, and as the second-year students get closer to starting full-time on their clinical rotations, you can tell they are excited to begin putting the ideas they have learned in the first two years of medical school into practice.
I’m also learning to perfect some teaching techniques I’ve tried in other venues before, but not in the medical student arena. I’m trying to incorporate more active learning sessions in our lecture times. I’m encouraging our instructors to use a clicker system we have in place where students can answer questions by pushing an “A”, “B”, “C”, or “D” button. This can allow more immediate feedback on concepts the whole class is struggling with. I’m also working on using a technique called team-based learning where instead of a traditional lecture, the students are given a case which illustrates the required objectives for the session, and in teams of four or five students, they discover the answers together by applying it in a clinical situation. Both the students and I are still learning how to do this most effectively, but I think it is an exciting way to teach. I have enjoyed it, and I hope the students have as well.
As I move on to next year, I’m hoping that Dr. Mello and I will learn from how things went this year to constantly be trying to improve the course. In the end, I’m hoping that you will someday be the beneficiary of this course. Someday you may be faced with a disease of the nervous system, and it may just be that your doctor first started thinking about how to approach and treat those diseases while sitting on the other side of my podium.
Jeff Kraakevik, M.D., earned his medical degree from the University of Iowa and his fellowship in Movement Disorders from Oregon Health & Science University. He joined the OHSU movement disorders faculty in 2006 and is currently an Assistant Professor of Neurology. Dr. Kraakevik holds the unique distinction of being a former high school teacher. He has followed this trajectory of educator and currently heads up the development of medical student and resident education for the OHSU department of Neurology and VA Medical Center where he holds a joint appointment. Dr. Kraakevik’s research interests include gait and balance problems of Parkinson’s disease as well as research that explores the best teaching practices for medical education.