Collaborative learning groups
Students find a ‘home away from home’ in the UF College of Medicine’s collaborative learning groups.
Laughter erupts from the table of nine, resembling a group of old friends casually catching up, making jokes and sharing highs and lows of the week.
The floor is open for discussion, with Shelley Collins, MD, FAAP, an associate professor in the UF department of pediatrics, guiding the conversation. “What do you guys think of this?” she asks, holding up a newspaper and pointing to an article on pharmaceuticals.
Each week, the meeting kicks off with students sharing experiences of the past week. Collins then steers the discussion to relevant issues, allowing her UF College of Medicine students to apply curriculum concepts to everyday practice — covering all aspects of medical education, from biomedical science and social and behavioral sciences to public health and clinical care.
Led by hand-selected faculty members, the 17 collaborative learning groups made up of eight students each are the center of the college’s revised patient-centered curriculum, which offers students more time with patients and earlier exposure to clinical study. The groups collaborate with one another to explore topics such as evidence-based medicine, ethical concepts and principles and even standardized patient interviews in supervised clinical practice.
Now in its third year, the integrated approach to learning has eased the transition from textbook to bedside.
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“These students are much more prepared to interact with patients. They have a confidence and competence I haven’t seen before,” said Collins, medical director of UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital.
To foster this confidence, a strong emphasis is placed on active, self-directed learning. Students are required to complete service learning hours to increase exposure to community health, as well as a five-week clinical preceptorship that prepares them for a clinical clerkship.
“As students, we not only get more time with patients, but we get earlier patient exposure,” said Lexi Crawford, a third-year medical student. “Because it’s more clinically based, we are able to ask questions on our own — it’s more lifetime learning than required lectures.”
Each week, the collaborative learning groups tackle a new topic that helps pull together the concepts they have learned in the classroom. For example, one week Collins’ group met and reviewed cases that helped students understand the ethical principles of justice, beneficence and patient autonomy. The group then switched gears and worked through three cases of patients who presented to a clinic with abdominal complaints. The students discuss the case out loud, using what they learned in their gastrointestinal block to critically think through the patient’s presentation. Afterward, they each present the case to Collins as though they were performing grand rounds in the hospital.
“These activities help the students to critically appraise both ethical situations that they may encounter and real patient presentations,” Collins said.
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During another session, Collins took her group to the emergency room, where each student was introduced to a patient who agreed to be interviewed and examined by the student. Collins observed the patient-student interaction, stepping in as needed to guide the student or help clarify any questions from the patient. Through this, the students receive real-time feedback from the patients — who enjoy participating in the students’ learning — and from Collins, who evaluates their skills in taking a history and their bedside manner.
Because they remain in their collaborative learning groups for their entire four years of medical school, students are developing strong relationships with their peers and mentors — one of the greatest benefits for both the students and professors, Collins said.
“It is true mentoring, with everything from tutoring to helping balance work and life,” she said. “Starting their first day, you get to know a student’s strengths and weaknesses and can provide one-on-one, specific feedback.”
And the students appreciate the opportunity to form valuable bonds.
“Our groups are like a home away from home at med school,” Crawford said. “It’s providing a consistency throughout our education, where we know each week we will be able to share the highs and lows of the past week, and we have someone to go to for advice — career-wise or on a personal level.”
The fresh approach to medical education replaces a traditional discipline-based program that comprised two years of study focusing on biomedical science followed by two years of clinical practice. It precedes the opening of the George T. Harrell, MD, Medical Education Building, which will provide a dedicated space for the learning groups to meet and use all of the technology available to them — something Collins said is not possible with the current space.
“It’s a unique opportunity to venture into the world of students,” Collins said. “As their go-to person, you are able to observe as they transform from an eager student to an incredible professional.”