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Learning for life

Principal Daniel Woolf presents a Teaching and Learning award to (from left to right) Sandra Halliday, Sheila Pinchin, Dr. Melanie Walker, Dr. Heather Murray, and Suzanne Maranda.

When the School of Medicine at Queen’s initiated a curriculum renewal process for the MD program in 2009, Heather Murray (Emergency Medicine) saw an opportunity to enhance the education of medical students in evidence-based medicine and research skills training.

The study and practice of medicine is constantly evolving, and there is an endless amount of information and new knowledge being created through research and then being shared through studies and journals. Long after they’ve graduated, Dr. Murray explains, doctors need to be able to access new information and understand it before they can apply it.

“As our knowledge and understanding of human disease and how we treat it changes, the management of these conditions change,” Dr. Murray says. “So our students must graduate with a framework for understanding what they don’t know and finding valid answers. We can’t teach them a static body of knowledge that will apply anymore. We have to teach them a series of steps they undertake to educate themselves as they go forward because the target is always moving.”

The plan, in short, was to teach students how to be continual learners while, at the same time, the School of Medicine reduced the amount of lecture-based learning in the program. This meant teaching students how to approach the vast body of information, critically analyze it, and then, if deemed viable, apply it.

The result was an innovative new curricular plan for each year of the four-year program, developed by Dr. Murray and a multidisciplinary team including fellow faculty members Melanie Walker (Division of Cancer Care and Epidemiology) and Linda Levesque (Centre for Health Services and Policy Research), Sheila Pinchin, Manager - Educational Development and Faculty Support, School of Medicine, as well as Suzanne Maranda and Sandra Halliday of the Bracken Library.

In 2015, the team received the Curriculum Development Award, one of six Principal’s Teaching and Learning Awards. The award recognizes excellence in curriculum or program development through collaborative efforts by committees, teams, units or departments.

As the curriculum renewal progressed, so did the introduction to evidence-based medicine and research.

The initial step in 2009 saw Dr. Murray and Dr. Levesque develop a first-year course in evidence-based medicine, MEDS 112, also referred to as CARL – Critical Appraisal, Research and Lifelong Learning.  Throughout first year, further sessions would be held in a variety of courses to entrench the connections.

“We slowly evolved this curriculum over the years where the students would do this foundational stuff in the CARL course: they would learn how to read papers and how to interpret results, and the basic skill set was to be a literate consumer of medical evidence,” Dr. Murray says. “Then the students would do these practical application sessions where I would team teach with a faculty member in a clinical course and we would do a deep dive and read a paper and apply it to some case scenarios.”

This is followed by a second newly designed course: the critical enquiry course (MEDS 232) in second year. In small groups of three students with one faculty mentor, the focus is on developing a research proposal longitudinally over the year, building upon the skills they gained in first year.

“In this course they conduct a literature search, they do a bit of critical appraisal, and then they build their own research proposal,” Dr. Murray explains. “And many of the students use that course as a launch pad to actually do research in the summer after their second year.”

The curriculum continues in third and fourth years, as the students conduct their clinical clerkships, where they complete a written exercise of asking questions, finding and appraising evidence and then writing up an actual patient case they have been involved with for each rotation.

The Principal’s Teaching and Learning Awards, created in 2015, recognize individuals and teams who have shown exceptional innovation and leadership in teaching and learning on campus. The awards are administered by the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL).

Nominations for the 2017 Curriculum Development Award are currently being accepted. All nominations should be sent electronically in PDF form to ctl@queensu.ca no later than Tuesday, Aug. 1, by 4 pm. For more information about the award and the nomination form and process, visit the CTL website