NYT – the lost art of medical-school pimping:

Does grilling medical students with questions make them into better doctors? For years, many professors routinely peppered students with relevant and arcane queries, often embarrassing them. Things may be gentler today, but the practice, referred to as the “pimping” of students, still has its advocates.

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  • DrPak

    My experience with getting pimped was terrible and I didn’t know it happened in the US as well. I thought it was just professors from our part of the world. The article hits the nail on the head when it says:

    “Pimping was used by insecure senior physicians to belittle vulnerable students and show them who was boss.”

    I always felt this was the case – especially when incorrect answers were met with smirks and contempteous looks from the profs. Leading questions are all well and good, but many senior doctors have enormous egos which they feed by humiliating students. I would hate rounds just because of this. It might have forced me to learn more, but also caused me to like learning a lot less. It became too much about not wanting to be humiliated and less about learning itself.

    One OB/GYN proffessor of ours was absolutely notorious for being a malignant pimper. She would yell and scream and insult you if you didn’t know the answer. Once, during rounds when we came to a bed assigned to me, she asked whose patient it was and I stepped forward, heart in my throat. I had studied up on the patient extensively and managed to answer all her questions while she had her glare laser-beam aimed right at me. When I answered quite a number of them correctly, she just glared at me for another few seconds, whipped around to another student and shouted:

    “You!! What did he just say!?!”

  • shadowfax

    Pimping ain’t the problem in your case, Dr Pak — malignant personalities are. I was pimped relentlessly in my training at Johns Hopkins, and I certainly learned more from the process than almost any other aspect of my training, and I tried to incorporate it into my teaching when I was a senior resident.

    To be sure, I encountered my fair share of malignant bastards who pimped in an evil manner, and many who were more constructive (this was, fortunately, the majority). Some pimpers are really unfari they play what we used to call the “guess what I’m thinking” game.

    But I think a socratic dialogue can be a valuable tool, whne done properly.

  • Anonymous

    “Thinking on your feet” is very much a part of a surgeon’s practice and pimping is a good way to stimulate a student’s thinking while doing a procedure. It can be very useful in preparation for the oral boards. Granted, there are those “malignant” professors who just enjoy watching an intern or student cry, but I was lucky in that our professors truly wanted us to learn/remember while we were “doing”. With regard to the “soft touch” given to residents these days (80 hour work week, etc.), I would be interested in a prospective study regarding passing rates on board certifying and qualifying examinations.

  • Nicole Black

    The Socratic method is alive and well in law schools, although it’s not as prevalent as it used to be. I agree that one can learn a lot from that method, as long as it’s not used in an abusive manner.

    As for this blog, I just stumbled across it a few weeks ago and really enjoy it. I recommended it to all of the physicians and nurses in my overly-medical-ed up family.

  • Anonymous

    I am a third-year medical student; in my head, there’s “pimping” and there’s “teaching”. I have had some very wonderful teachers who have asked me thoughtful questions- who have pushed me into reasoning things out, thinking about the pathophysiology of diseases- I don’t believe this is pimping. The second category of people, “the pimps” who have these so-called malignant personalities have served me no purpose whatsoever- many times I have noticed that some of these people don’t care about what you have to say, and don’t listen to you when you get the answer right. They tell you you’re wrong and then rephrase the same thing you have said. It all goes back to this: many people in the medical profession are simply miserable people. Perhaps they have been tortured through their training and are unhappy about where they are. They take it out on whoever, students, residents etc.
    By its own virtue, this profession should have more caring people who are teachers, who themselves want to continue learning. Some of the stories I am reading in response to this blog statement just confirm that we are treated like babies. They take all our money and treat us like kids. I doubt law students and other graduate students are treated in this manner.
    Its a shame.

  • Michael Rack, MD

    It’s hard out here for a pimp

  • Anonymous

    “many people in the medical profession are simply miserable people”

    Don’t worry, unless you’re AOA and going into dermatology, you’ll be miserable soon enough…

  • Anonymous

    Yes there are malignant pimpers for sure.

    But also the latest generation of medical students have grown up in the “Can’t hurt their feelings, Can’t be cut from Little League, and everyone gets a trophy” culture. They are unprepared to deal with the hardships of life.

  • Anonymous

    I am also an MSIII and I actually don’t mind being pimped if it’s done in a constructive way. Sometimes it’s the only sign that the attending realizes we exist, and if that’s the only way I’m going to get taught something, I’m okay with that.

    However, I have to disagree with the previous poster who said current medical students can’t handle life’s hardships. Just because we don’t accept that the way things have always been done is the best/only way, doesn’t mean we can’t handle tough situations. As I have said, I don’t mind being pimped because I am learning, which is after all the point of medical school. I do mind being asked mindless questions whose sole purpose is to make me look dumb for somehow not knowing as much as a senior attending.

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