Curiosity: Igniting and Reigniting the Candle of Learning to Shine from Within

By Julie Hau

The act of being curious can guide us to new discoveries to better understand the world. For medical students and residents, curiosity about how the human body works, understanding mechanisms of action and tracing the pathophysiology of a disease often drives their interest in acquiring new funds of knowledge. However, in the complex world of homework, reading, test taking, patient outcomes, and daily-to-do tasks the joy for learning and natural curiosity can be stifled. Further, the overwhelming amount of information that medical students and doctors must learn and continue to learn can be daunting. Dyche and Epstein, in their 2011 article “Curiosity and medical education,” call for lifelong curiosity, not just learning. By helping students break their learning into tangible steps by connecting and re-activating their initial excitement about the field of medicine, we can help students leverage their curiosity.

William Arthur Ward stated, “Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.” Curiosity is among the many intangible methods utilized by LAS to support students as they prepare for exams and for their profession as doctors. Taking this metaphor further, how can we help medical students avoid burn-out, while helping them acquire the necessary content to achieve on exams and as professionals? In last week’s blog Rachel Lewin discussed resiliency, one of the intangibles implemented in LAS curriculum. Helping people restore and call upon their resiliency is a point of entry and a crucial element of wellness when working with students. In addition to their resiliency, strategies which enhance learning and test-taking outcomes are essential. One way to learn is for students and test-takers to leverage their curiosity about something they are reading, or a patient with whom they are working. In the case of test prep, challenging students to ask questions, identify, construct, and deconstruct a vignette is a path to enhancing test scores and ultimately clinical reasoning and patient outcomes.

Students are well-served to show curiosity in asking their patients questions and actively listening. These acts can guide the doctor-patient relationship and choice of treatment. Furthermore, for the delivery of quality medical services, students must be curious about a patient’s condition, experience, and feelings. Curiosity has been shown to expand empathy, help doctors make more accurate diagnoses, and understand more fully the lived reality of their patients (Dyche & Epstein, 2011). The advent of problem-based and team-based learning in medical schools has encouraged more self-reflection, peer learning, and deeper funds of knowledge in medical students. That is, medical schools have recognized that students learn best when they take ownership of their learning, collaborate with peers, and view each situation as something from which to learn. To expand this further, Dyche and Epstein (2011) highlight that this process necessarily requires self-reflection marked with curiosity.

Doctors and medical students alike need to be able to reflect on what they know about a patient or topic, what information they need to gather, “why” a treatment works for a diagnosis, and how they can expand and rule out overlapping and differential diagnoses to apply the corresponding treatment. Simultaneously, they require mindful self-reflection viewing problems with an open-mind, willingness to learn, and challenging their own and others’ assumptions. This requires students to consider multiple perspectives. At LAS, we mirror this method. Not only do we encourage students to leverage their curiosity, but we also, as medical coaches, leverage ours.

We model perspective taking. We ask questions about the questions. We are curious about the world of medicine too. We strive to understand the entire student from their test-taking history to understanding the stressors they encounter as they traverse the professional process from novice to expert. That is, we leverage our curiosity, wanting to know about a myriad of factors from their time-management to their lived experience from student to rising doctor to doctor. We remind students why they became passionate about medicine in the first place, what ignited the flame of inquiry, why they want to know why, and how they can further illuminate the light of curiosity within. We encourage our students to be curious about their patients, the test, and the world of medicine. We help them keep the candle burning bright from resilience to internalizing the process of being curious. Once that candle is lit, in the words of Dr. Maya Angelou, “Nothing can dim the light which shines from within.”

Reference and Work Consulted

Dyche, L, & Epstein, R. M. (2011). Curiosity and medical education. Medical Education, 45, 663-668. doi: 10.111/j.1365-2923.2011.03944.x

Roman, B. (2011). Curiosity: A best practice in education. Medical Education, 45, 654-656. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2923.2011.04017.x

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