Infectious disease experts propose more effective way to teach the topic

Frederick Southwick, M.D., professor and chief of infectious diseases at UF’s College of Medicine.

Approaches that rely on PowerPoint lectures and notes followed up with multiple choice tests are not the best way to teach medical microbiology and infectious diseases to medical students, says a group of experts led by a UF professor. Such strategies are ineffectual because they set low expectations and encourage rote learning at the expense of real understanding and long-term memorization of the subject among students, they say.

“These methods also fail to stimulate active participation, collaborative learning and two-way communication with the professor, and they do not respect the students’ diverse talents and ways of learning,” said Frederick Southwick, M.D., professor and chief of infectious diseases at UF’s College of Medicine, and four other professors in a commentary recently published in the journal Academic Medicine.

The authors — from UF, University of California, Los Angeles, University of Michigan, Virginia Commonwealth University and Albert Einstein School of Medicine — are all members of the Preclinical Curriculum Committee of the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

The committee proposes a new five-pronged teaching approach that emphasizes active learning and understanding. It calls for:

• “Just in time” teaching that requires students to email answers to two general questions and areas of misunderstanding to the instructor several hours before each lecture,

• Peer instruction or large-group sessions consisting of four-member student teams who electronically answer a conceptual question before each major lecture section,

• Teaching from edited textbooks and Internet sources,

• Small-group discussions that focus on how diseases originate and develop, and on differential diagnosis — the process by which physicians diagnose a condition by eliminating other possibilities based on a patient’s symptoms.

• Essay questions that encourage and test understanding in addition to recognition.

The committee proposes the development of a national syllabus in order to reduce information overload and lessen the need for excessive memorization.

In addition to helping students approach their studies more effectively, the authors said, the new methods could help rekindle interest in the field of infectious diseases and encourage future medical students to bring a richer understanding of clinical and basic science to the bedside.