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Friday, July 29, 2011

Becoming a medical school memory champion via cartooning

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Congratulations to all of our MS2 who recently took the dreaded USMLE 1 Exam! Unfortunately, much of medical school is about memorization, and believe it or not, there is a science to memorization. I learned this from one of our students, Gabrielle Schaefer, MS2, who describes her experience meeting a 'memory champion' and picked his brain for some memory tricks for Step 1, including cartoon images. As I spoke at the Comics in Medicine conference in Chicago a few weeks ago, it seemed fitting for her to describe her journey.

Right around the time I was beginning an epic five-week studying stint to prepare for STEP 1 of the Boards, Joshua Foer happened to be a guest on The Colbert Report (my go-to 20 minute study break). Joshua Foer is this ridiculously young and talented journalist who won the U.S. Memory Championships (yes this exists). If his name sounds familiar you may be thinking of Jonathan Foer, his equally talented older brother who is also a writer.

Anyway, Joshua Foer was promoting his recently released book "Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything." The book is about memory and his adventures in the world of memory competitions. Apparently there is a small group of people who get together each year and have memory competitions which consist of several memory "events" including faces of strangers, poetry, random words, numbers, binary digits, stacks of cards, etc. Participants wear noise cancelling headphones and blinders (think sunglasses with two little holes drilled out) to reduce distracters as much as possible. After attending the U.S. competition as a journalist he wound up being tutored by and English memory master and winning the completion the next year (the U.S. memory scene is not very developed, the Germans are much more serious).

Foer stressed that memory champions are not born with extraordinary powers of memory. They training themselves to use some established memory techniques and are constantly developing new ways on remembering things. This intrigued me since I wondered if I could use some of these techniques to master the overwhelming volume of facts needed for the Boards. I started reading his book and loved it. It's very pop-science quick read. When chatting with one of my best friends who was studying for the Bar, she says, "Oh Josh Foer is giving a talk at this spot in Echo Park this weekend, let's go pick his brain for ideas." (I studied in Los Angeles).

So we went, and I managed to get up the nerve to ask him for any advice. In the most bizarre coincidence, he tells me that his wife is also a second-year medical student studying for the boards (bet she'll do just fine!). Since visual mnemonics are big in the memory world, he explained that when making a visual aid, the funnier, scarier, raunchier, and stranger it is, the easier it is to remember. He recommended trying to enrich the image with as much detail as possible. He also explained that, though these images help you remember, thinking up good ones takes a lot of creative energy and can be exhausting. That's one of the things you work on developing when training for a memory championship, the capacity to conjure up rich, creative images really quickly. He signed my First Aid for the Boards, and I went home and started using that idea by making cartoons (a la Micro Made Ridiculously Simple).

He was right, creative effort is draining. Sometimes, it took forever to think of something that would stick, but the stuff I made cartoons for is in the vault! Here is an example of a visual aid I made myself for a mucopolysccharidosis, Hurlers. In this image there is a gargoyle (Hurler's causes gargoylism) hurling a ball (Hurler's). He has a dark spleen and liver (spleno- and hepatomegaly) and rain clouds for eyes (clouded corneas). He is also panting and gasping because of airway obstruction. What I love about this picture is that if I can remember one part of the image (one thing about Hurler's) the rest of the image (the rest of the facts) come back to me.

The other nice thing I noticed is that on a lot of Boards questions you narrow it down to two answers, but it's been a while since you looked at that material and you are 70% sure you picked the right answer. If I made a picture like this I was sure, clouded cornea's goes with Hurler's, not the related Hunter's disease. I used some other techniques from the book: the "memory palace" for biochemical pathways; the "major system" to remember lab values. While memory tricks don't lend itself to everything, it was really helpful for stuff that is difficult to reason through (lysosomal storage diseases, embryology).
–Gabrielle Schaefer, MS2

Thanks to Gabrielle for describing her experience! And who said doodling in class never got you anywhere?

Vineet Arora, MD, is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. She is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist, supervising internal medicine residents and students caring for general medicine patients, and serves as a career advisor and mentor for several medical students and residents, I also direct the NIH-sponsored Training Early Achievers for Careers in Health (TEACH) Research program, which prepares and inspires talented diverse Chicago high school students to enter medical research careers. This post originally appeared on her blog, FutureDocs.

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Blog log

Members of the American College of Physicians contribute posts from their own sites to ACP Internistand ACP Hospitalist. Contributors include:

Albert Fuchs, MD
Albert Fuchs, MD, FACP, graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, where he also did his internal medicine training. Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, Dr. Fuchs spent three years as a full-time faculty member at UCLA School of Medicine before opening his private practice in Beverly Hills in 2000.

And Thus, It Begins
Amanda Xi, ACP Medical Student Member, is a first-year medical student at the OUWB School of Medicine, charter class of 2015, in Rochester, Mich., from which she which chronicles her journey through medical training from day 1 of medical school.

Auscultation
Ira S. Nash, MD, FACP, is the senior vice president and executive director of the North Shore-LIJ Medical Group, and a professor of Cardiology and Population Health at Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine. He is Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiovascular Diseases and was in the private practice of cardiology before joining the full-time faculty of Massachusetts General Hospital.

Zackary Berger
Zackary Berger, MD, ACP Member, is a primary care doctor and general internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Johns Hopkins. His research interests include doctor-patient communication, bioethics, and systematic reviews.

Controversies in Hospital Infection Prevention
Run by three ACP Fellows, this blog ponders vexing issues in infection prevention and control, inside and outside the hospital. Daniel J Diekema, MD, FACP, practices infectious diseases, clinical microbiology, and hospital epidemiology in Iowa City, Iowa, splitting time between seeing patients with infectious diseases, diagnosing infections in the microbiology laboratory, and trying to prevent infections in the hospital. Michael B. Edmond, MD, FACP, is a hospital epidemiologist in Richmond, Va., with a focus on understanding why infections occur in the hospital and ways to prevent these infections, and sees patients in the inpatient and outpatient settings. Eli N. Perencevich, MD, ACP Member, is an infectious disease physician and epidemiologist in Iowa City, Iowa, who studies methods to halt the spread of resistant bacteria in our hospitals (including novel ways to get everyone to wash their hands).

db's Medical Rants
Robert M. Centor, MD, FACP, contributes short essays contemplating medicine and the health care system.

Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member
Suneel Dhand, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing physician in Massachusetts. He has published numerous articles in clinical medicine, covering a wide range of specialty areas including; pulmonology, cardiology, endocrinology, hematology, and infectious disease. He has also authored chapters in the prestigious "5-Minute Clinical Consult" medical textbook. His other clinical interests include quality improvement, hospital safety, hospital utilization, and the use of technology in health care.

DrDialogue
Juliet K. Mavromatis, MD, FACP, provides a conversation about health topics for patients and health professionals.

Dr. Mintz' Blog
Matthew Mintz, MD, FACP, has practiced internal medicine for more than a decade and is an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients.

Everything Health
Toni Brayer, MD, FACP, blogs about the rapid changes in science, medicine, health and healing in the 21st century.

FutureDocs
Vineet Arora, MD, FACP, is Associate Program Director for the Internal Medicine Residency and Assistant Dean of Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine for the University of Chicago. Her education and research focus is on resident duty hours, patient handoffs, medical professionalism, and quality of hospital care. She is also an academic hospitalist.

Glass Hospital
John H. Schumann, MD, FACP, provides transparency on the workings of medical practice and the complexities of hospital care, illuminates the emotional and cognitive aspects of caregiving and decision-making from the perspective of an active primary care physician, and offers behind-the-scenes portraits of hospital sanctums and the people who inhabit them.

Gut Check
Ryan Madanick, MD, ACP Member, is a gastroenterologist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, and the Program Director for the GI & Hepatology Fellowship Program. He specializes in diseases of the esophagus, with a strong interest in the diagnosis and treatment of patients who have difficult-to-manage esophageal problems such as refractory GERD, heartburn, and chest pain.

I'm dok
Mike Aref, MD, PhD, FACP, is an academic hospitalist with an interest in basic and clinical science and education, with interests in noninvasive monitoring and diagnostic testing using novel bedside imaging modalities, diagnostic reasoning, medical informatics, new medical education modalities, pre-code/code management, palliative care, patient-physician communication, quality improvement, and quantitative biomedical imaging.

Informatics Professor
William Hersh, MD, FACP, Professor and Chair, Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, Oregon Health & Science University, posts his thoughts on various topics related to biomedical and health informatics.

David Katz, MD
David L. Katz, MD, MPH, FACP, is an internationally renowned authority on nutrition, weight management, and the prevention of chronic disease, and an internationally recognized leader in integrative medicine and patient-centered care.

Just Oncology
Richard Just, MD, ACP Member, has 36 years in clinical practice of hematology and medical oncology. His blog is a joint publication with Gregg Masters, MPH.

KevinMD
Kevin Pho, MD, ACP Member, offers one of the Web's definitive sites for influential health commentary.

MD Whistleblower
Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.

Medical Lessons
Elaine Schattner, MD, FACP, shares her ideas on education, ethics in medicine, health care news and culture. Her views on medicine are informed by her past experiences in caring for patients, as a researcher in cancer immunology, and as a patient who's had breast cancer.

Mired in MedEd
Alexander M. Djuricich, MD, FACP, is the Associate Dean for Continuing Medical Education (CME), and a Program Director in Medicine-Pediatrics at the Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, where he blogs about medical education.

More Musings
Rob Lamberts, MD, ACP Member, a med-peds and general practice internist, returns with "volume 2" of his personal musings about medicine, life, armadillos and Sasquatch at More Musings (of a Distractible Kind).

Prescriptions
David M. Sack, MD, FACP, practices general gastroenterology at a small community hospital in Connecticut. His blog is a series of musings on medicine, medical care, the health care system and medical ethics, in no particular order.

Reflections of a Grady Doctor
Kimberly Manning, MD, FACP, reflects on the personal side of being a doctor in a community hospital in Atlanta.

The Blog of Paul Sufka
Paul Sufka, MD, ACP Member, is a board certified rheumatologist in St. Paul, Minn. He was a chief resident in internal medicine with the University of Minnesota and then completed his fellowship training in rheumatology in June 2011 at the University of Minnesota Department of Rheumatology. His interests include the use of technology in medicine.

Technology in (Medical) Education
Neil Mehta, MBBS, MS, FACP, is interested in use of technology in education, social media and networking, practice management and evidence-based medicine tools, personal information and knowledge management.

Peter A. Lipson, MD
Peter A. Lipson, MD, ACP Member, is a practicing internist and teaching physician in Southeast Michigan. The blog, which has been around in various forms since 2007, offers musings on the intersection of science, medicine, and culture.

Why is American Health Care So Expensive?
Janice Boughton, MD, FACP, practiced internal medicine for 20 years before adopting a career in hospital and primary care medicine as a locum tenens physician. She lives in Idaho when not traveling.

World's Best Site
Daniel Ginsberg, MD, FACP, is an internal medicine physician who has avidly applied computers to medicine since 1986, when he first wrote medically oriented computer programs. He is in practice in Tacoma, Washington.

Other blogs of note:

American Journal of Medicine
Also known as the Green Journal, the American Journal of Medicine publishes original clinical articles of interest to physicians in internal medicine and its subspecialities, both in academia and community-based practice.

Clinical Correlations
A collaborative medical blog started by Neil Shapiro, MD, ACP Member, associate program director at New York University Medical Center's internal medicine residency program. Faculty, residents and students contribute case studies, mystery quizzes, news, commentary and more.

Interact MD
Michael Benjamin, MD, ACP member, doesn't accept industry money so he can create an independent, clinician-reviewed space on the Internet for physicians to report and comment on the medical news of the day.

PLoS Blog
The Public Library of Science's open access materials include a blog.

White Coat Rants
One of the most popular anonymous blogs written by an emergency room physician.

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