Why Formative And Transformative Learning Are Not Wastes Of Time

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I have been meaning to write this post for some time, I just did not know how to word it. I still don’t, really. On this blog I have often ranted about people who think that medicine is simply medicine. Because it is not. Medicine is so much more than just the science, the anatomy, the pathophysiology. If it was just that, I wouldn’t love it. I used to think I was not alone in this belief.

In our first year, we had an immensely annoying class about “Personal and Professional Development”. I still think the class was annoying – not because its intentions were useless, but because I don’t think the class went deep enough.

Now, in our fifth year, we have had two courses that deviate from the run-of-the-mill science courses we have been inundated with. One was a class about health management, that taught things from team profiles, conflict management, how to set up a private practice, and a whole lot of other things like that. The other class was Medical Law and Ethics.

It surprised me to notice all the antagonism many of my classmates felt about these modules. The most common complaint I heard was along the lines of, “In our fifth year of studying medicine, this is not what we should be studying.”

Students did not like being taught non-medical, non-scientific stuff. Personally? I thought it was awesome. Probably that makes me a suck-up or a bad medical student. But a class in Philosophy?? Don’t mind if I do! Have you ever had the opportunity to talk with someone who has no knowledge but medical knowledge (or no knowledge but engineering/etc knowledge)? It’s rather boring.

MedicalRose recently pointed out that in our senior years at medical school, people complain about “never being taught how to study” – when, in fact, the self-same annoying subject in our first year had several hours dedicated to study methods. In a few years, will students complain about never being taught certain legal constructs pertaining to medicine?

I think half the problem was that the term “change agent” was used a lot, and the repetition annoyed people (because we are just SO mature). But my question is – regardless of how disillusioned we are NOW, didn’t most of us hope, waaaay back in first year, that medicine would teach us how to change the world?

Frankly, I think the problem in the medical world (and much of the rest of the world) is that we resist change. We SAY we want to change the world, but we don’t want the world to change us. That is why it is so difficult to implement things like eHealth fully, which would completely revolutionise healthcare delivery in South Africa. That is why the medical profession was one of the most racial professions during South African Apartheid, doctors making themselves complicit in crimes against humanity.

And more than resisting physical change, we resist changing the way we think. If that isn’t one of the biggest stumbling blocks globally, I don’t know what is. It is not difficult to realise why: we like to think that we are the best. The cream of the crop. And if we change, isn’t that admitting that we too were faulty?

In diffusion of ideas theory, we learn that the world consists of innovators, early adopters, early and late majorities, and the laggards. So it is natural for some of us to be the skeptics. If the whole world eagerly embraced change, ours would be a very unstable world indeed. But the way we are going, the world is so lacking innovators and early adopters that we may not have anything too late-adopt. Am I too critical? Possibly.

Another complaint: “I am studying Medicine, not Law. I should not have to learn about all these laws.” Uhm, hallo? Are doctors not vital in many legal investigations? Do we not run the risk of court actions? I never wanted to be a traffic officer, but I still had to learn that red means stop and green means go.

I still believe in changing the world. I am not the same as I was in first year: I realise the importance of a stable income these days. I no longer entertain the idea of working somewhere for free, because I recognise that I too will need to live. I also realise that changing the world – or a tiny tiny part of it – will be a lot more difficult than I ever anticipated.

A valid question, I think, is whether it is worth teaching such classes when there is resistance to critical thinking. Is there a chance that it will do good, or are we wasting resources?

Since I wrote the earlier referenced post two years ago, I have learned a lot about people. I have learned that the geniuses with low EQs also have valuable lessons to teach. I have learned that they too contribute to changing the world. I have learned that my face-value assumption of a somewhat grouchy individual may be inaccurate.

But, honestly, I would much rather work with a team member that scored less-than-perfect in their exams but knows how to think critically, than a brilliant team member without such abilities.

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