The desire to spoon-feed medical residents today

As I begin another year teaching EKGs to our new residents, I find I am increasingly asking myself, “Where to teach?”

I do not mean to imply a geographic sense to the word “where” (although this is difficult, too, as residents move from hospital to hospital in large health care systems like ours as they change rotations), but rather as more of a “level.” What level do I teach our residents the art of EKG reading? Do I keep it rudimentary or do I teach it at the level of a good cardiology fellow? Are we striving for excellence or striving for adequacy in EKG interpretation? Said another way: Do I teach at a Dubin’s level of EKG interpretation or a Marriott’s?

This is not an easy decision for those engaged in teaching medical students and residents.

Every year I am evaluated by the residents for my instruction, and every year I get good marks. But an email received from our program director made me concerned, because a criticism they had heard from the residents was that my instruction was too advanced. (This was a first for me despite using similar core lecture materials year to year.)

Which led me to wonder, is my curriculum too advanced for our newer residents or are medical students not receiving instruction on EKGs in medical schools before residency? Or has is the art of EKG interpretation evolving to simply reading the computer-generated interpretation at the top of the tracing? Should residents just be taught basic ACLS-level tracings or the more subtle findings of hypothermia and hypercalcemia?

I wonder why there’s such a difference now, why there is a draw to spoon-feed our residents rather than to teach them basic principles upon which to grow their understanding. Perhaps residents are flooded. Perhaps they are scared. Or (more likely) perhaps we need to do a better job leading by example. Perhaps, as one fellow of mine said, our attendings in medical schools are so hurried to get back to clinic that they never do chalk-talks or EKG reading with residents any more. Maybe the pressures to make medicine more efficient is robbing from education.

Whatever it is, there is a change.

I’m sure I’m not the only teacher who’s encountered the same difficulty knowing where to teach now. But I continue to believe that our youngest doctors can rise to any challenge they are given as long as they have enough time, so don’t expect it to be any easier from now on, but maybe just a bit slower.

Wes Fisher is a cardiologist who blogs at Dr. Wes.

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