Block 3 – Respiratory

Today’s inane image of the day:

Yes, yes, I know I’m recycling images since this originally appeared in an earlier entry,  however, I think it’s the most appropriate photo to depict our Respiratory block so I’m sticking to it!

As with our last two blocks (Neuroscience and Cardiovascular), I thought it might be helpful to write about how things went during our last block of the M1 year: Respiratory. Now that we’ve completed a couple of these organ system courses, I realize that I need to go into each new block with an open mind about how it will run — there are definitely some uniformity between each system [e.g. Anatomy, NBME exams], however due to the fact that each course is organized and run by a different faculty member in addition to the inherent differences in the subject matter, there are bound to be differences. This being said, Respiratory had it’s pros and cons but overall I thought it put up a pretty good fight.

Course Overview
This block was 6 weeks like the Cardiovascular one. Each week we had a graded Moodle quiz that consisted of 20 questions that opened on Friday and was due by the end of the day Sunday. As always, we had TBLs, Anatomy labs and lectures. Additionally, we had a couple of Microbiology labs and a ventilator one. There were no clinical case studies. Our grades were determined by performance on the weekly quizzes, TBLs, Anatomy practical and final exam.

What I loved
Microbiology lab. Since the Respiratory system is so open to the environment we live in, it makes sense that there would be an emphasis on microbes. This being said, one of my favorite faculty members, Dr. Harriott, made sure that we really understood all the clinically significant information in lecture and through two fun, hands-on, laboratory exercises. We cultured our own throats and went through various stations associated with clinical vignettes to determine the causative agent. Through these stations, we performed catalase tests and tried to identify gram positives/negatives through the microscope [and more… I’m just drawing a blank now]. Basically, she did a wonderful job making Respiratory Microbiology fun and easier to remember.

Ventilator lab. I was a bit skeptical about this lab, but it ended up being a really interesting experience. The gist of it was to learn about the different settings that ventilators can be set to [e.g. volume vs pressure control] and experiencing how it feels to breathe on one. I was definitely apprehensive about trying out a ventilator, but it helped me understand why it can be such an unpleasant experience for patients. Furthermore, we got to play with the controls and become familiar with the device which will undoubtedly come in handy later on.

More study time. Dr. Rodenbaugh [our faculty course director] really pushed for carving out more white space for us and I really appreciated it. Although we still had a ton of lecture, just a couple hours each week really made a huge difference in being able to digest the material being thrown at us.

Final exam. As with the Cardiovascular block, our final exam was an NBME one, which made it more fair and straightforward.

What could be improved
Textbooks/course pack. The course required two textbooks by Dr. John B. West [one of which is featured in the photo above]. I really tried to give these books a chance, but I was not a fan of them. Additionally, Dr. Rodenbaugh compiled an iBook course pack [it was also available in PDF for the students without an iPad] that followed his lectures really closely. Although I thought the iBook had a lot of potential for making learning the material more interactive, I didn’t find it very helpful [keep in mind that I used the PDF version]. Maybe if I had used the iPad version I would have found more utility. Regardless, any textbook in its first edition is bound to have some flaws and I’m sure that Dr. Rodenbaugh will be integrating our feedback into improving the resource for future classes.

Quizzes. Although I found the quizzes to be helpful in the Cardiovascular course, this was not the case for Respiratory. I attribute this primarily to the fact that they were just too long… 10 questions is pretty reasonable to work at during the weekend, but 20 made it more of a burden than a learning tool. I just remember spending hours trying to bump my score above the 70% mark and feeling frustrated by the questions [they were a mixture of professor-generated and USMLEasy ones].

TBLs. I personally liked the Clinical Case Studies in Cardiovascular… however, I still maintain that the team-based learning exercise has the potential to be a great learning and assessment tool if it is designed to be more clinically-oriented. For some reason, the Respiratory TBLs didn’t quite meet my expectations — I thought that the background reading and the assessment questions needed some improvement.

Final thoughts
Overall, I thought the course was above average but that it could use some work to bump it up to exceptional. Dr. Rodenbaugh worked really hard with what he had and I applaud him for his dedication to making the course as successful as possible.

Day 242: Feeling overwhelmed

Today’s inane image of the day:

This salad was a wonderful surprise — adding fruit seems to make everything look and taste so much better!

Similar to the end of the Fall semester, the end of this semester is jam-packed with exams, assessments and assignments. I wish I could say that my many years of experience with this end-of-the-term-phenomenon prepared me to tackle this last month and a half with poise — but the reality of medicine is that you cannot really predict how things will be until they are. Being someone who likes to feel in control of any and all situations… this is a terrifying position to be in.

Alas, I have adapted over the course of the year. Medical school seems to send you into a perpetual state of feeling overwhelmed — it feels like you increase your threshold for stress and studying exponentially as you spend more time in medicine. Even though I’m used to this, school is still challenging. At times, it feels like being dropped off at Mt. Everest and told that you have to make it to the top; although we’re inexperienced amateur, we were selected because a committee decided that we are capable of scaling this challenge called medical education.

Being conditioned to handle stress doesn’t mean that I don’t have moments of doubt. Often, the following questions creep up in my mind: How will I memorize all of this material? How will I have enough time for all of my extracurricular commitments? Will I have the strength to get through this all? And then I reflect upon the trials and tribulations of the last academic year, and I feel accomplished. Our class has made it this far — we will make it through the last month and a half!

In the meantime, the only way to really address feeling overwhelmed is to actually do stuff [nothing compares to the satisfaction and relief of seeing the checkmarks next to a bunch of completed tasks!]. At this point, we have PMH and Capstone assignments due in the coming weeks in addition to keeping up with Respiratory lecture material. Then there’s that whole trying not to gain 20 lbs from eating junk food [Sweet Onion Kettle chips for the win], coffee beverages [if that warm weather would just come back for a visit I could start drinking Frappuccinos again…mmm], consuming inordinate amounts of energy drinks [I’ll be honest — Red Bull is my drink of choice; 5 hour energy = flushing, Monster = too much liquid] and Lunch and Learn food [yeah, uhh cheesy pizza and oily mac and cheese are not conducive to maintaining a healthy weight]. Additionally, I seem to have taken on a number of extracurricular commitments that require some serious time management on my part to maintain [e.g. AMWA elections are around the corner — eek!].

Anyway, look forward to future entries on trying to stay healthy, commuting, stress relief and anything else that pops into my mind!