What journalists can learn from doctors

What journalists can learn from doctors

By Ellen Ratner   
Reporters wait outside the Oval Office. (Talk Media News)

OPINION (Talk Media News)- This week in New Orleans, home to the Saturday Republican primary, I attended the conference of the Council on Resident Education in Obstetrics and Gynecology, or CREOG (part of the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology), and the Association of Professors of Gynecology and Obstetrics, or APGO.

The conference focused on teaching and training of new doctors and medical students. As I attended some of the sessions, I thought about how advanced they are in their current teaching methods and what lessons we could learn about how they teach medical students and new physicians and apply those lessons to teaching journalists.

So many young journalists come to Washington to learn, and not much has changed in decades about how they are trained. What CREOG and APGO are doing is state of the art. Frankly, not only journalists but also others can learn from these doctors.

Most important was simulation-based training for student doctors and residents. What they found is that simulation-based training improves self-confidence and also improves test scores. It allows the student to make mistakes. When they use simulation, it helps students not to be intimidated and stops the hesitation to learn surgical skills. It is low cost and ensures that young professionals do no harm to patients while they are learning. They learn to be at the top of their game before examining patients.

A presenter, Dr. Abigail Litwiller, talked about a great simulation program she called “The Labor Games,” where students earned points as they went through various simulation learning modules. This included feeling comfortable tying a square knot, doing an ob-gyn exam, suturing, learning to read a fetal heart tracing, estimating blood loss and making estimates as to the fetal weight (the size of the baby). Dr. Litwiller found that this kept students engaged. It promoted competition, and students wanted to see who could make the most knots. It also qualified as student-centered instruction. One professor, Dr. Melissa Wong, searched for a way to train residents and worked with the Perceptual Adaptive Learning Module, or PALM method. It is web based and allows for the learner to look at many examples, adapts to the individual learner and helps students to learn correct answers rather than resort to random guessing.

There was also a film festival at the conference, and many faculty and resident physicians made instructional films. The conference organizers had warned me that these films were not necessarily professional, but I found them to be high quality. These doctors could teach journalists any day of the week. Films included a bedside surgical intervention to treat Bartholin cysts by Dr. Jeannie Staples, as well as a safe alternative to the controversial/litigation-ridden power morcellator for laparoscopic surgeons by Dr. Christina Saad. While the films are created for obstetricians and gynecologists, the ultimate aim is a better, safer and more cost-effective patient experience.

Young journalists, even those who have graduated from good journalism schools, come to Washington with eyes wide open. Often, they are so intimated by Congress or even seeing the president that they don’t do the kind of journalism we expect as consumers. Imagine if the journalism profession learned from these OB-GYN professors and used some of their teaching techniques.

Journalism has been under the microscope recently for the kind of questions that are asked at debates and the overall slant that journalists often take. Imagine if there were real simulations, not using the kind that doctors’ use, but if students were required to watch a debate and write about it without a slant. Imagine if students were not so wide-eyed when covering Congress and they asked well-researched questions with some good research.

So, what could we take from CREOG and APGO? What if experienced journalists put newly minted or student journalists through journalist games, like the labor games developed by Dr. Abigail Litwiller, where the journalists had to clear certain research hurdles before asking questions of interviewees. What if there were a timed “game” to complete stories that were not slanted?

What if we used the PALM technique developed by psychologist Phil Kellman and adapted by Dr. Melissa Wong and offered computed-based learning on questions that any young journalist should know? What if every one of the older journalists in Washington, D.C., made a short film on some lesson of journalism that we had learned by trial and error?

Maybe, we should ask these OB-GYN professors to teach young journalists. It would be better than the system we have now. We have not moved ahead at the rate that these physicians have. We can and should learn from their innovative teaching techniques. The journalism profession would be much better for it.

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    1. This is good. I was reading “Psycho Cybernetics” by Maxwell Maltz. He talks about going through med-school as an aspiring surgeon, and in order to “calm his nerves” he would practice in his imagination doing surgeries.

      This would give him confidence when doing examinations and help him succeed. It seems like both methods can help aspiring doctors and journalists, or any profession for that matter.

      Thank you for the insight. 🙂

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