New Approach at Tulane Narrows Student-Faculty Divide

Neil Canavan, MSc

March 18, 2011

March 18, 2011 (Washington, DC) — A pilot program launched at Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans, Louisiana, led to a greater sense of academic community by taking advantage of the wide-ranging life experiences of both faculty members and students. The program received a warm reception here at the American Medical Student Association 61st Annual Convention.

Modeled after the increasingly popular Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) talks, Adam Kressel, a first-year medical student, sought to use the varied interests of colleagues and mentors to help regain the broader perspectives of life that might have been lost in the intense focus of academic pursuits.

"The idea behind the TED talks was to have students and faculty come together during lunchtime sessions and give short presentations about themselves," Mr. Kressel explained.

The topic could be anything from healthcare interests to travel, hobbies, and special skills. "We had someone talk about their former experience as a professional handball player; another student who is openly gay discussed methods for HIV prevention," Mr. Kressel told Medscape Medical News. Someone might play a musical instrument or show pictures of their travels in Peru, he added.

The TED sessions were presented as often as scheduling allowed, and featured 3 speakers who were given 10 to 15 minutes to discuss any topic of their choice. The initial focus was on students, but faculty and staff were then encouraged to join in. To ensure a reasonable turnout, invitations were sent to the entire medical student body, and — perhaps most important — free lunch was provided. Students were asked to give written feedback after each session.

"It's had a great reception," said Mr. Kressel. One example of feedback was perhaps the most telling: "I felt it helped me get into the mindset of my potential future patients."

Keeping an Open Mind

"It's fun for us," says Jennifer Farrell, Tulane 2014. "You see your peers in usually 1 or 2 lights as being fellow students or lab mates, but a lot of people have done a lot of interesting things, and the TED talks are a way for us to see what they've done. Talks might be scientifically or medically related or humanities based," or might be about handball. "Before I was a medical student, I was an athlete with the US national team for handball. For me, the TED talk was a fun way to show my classmates and professors the person I was before I was a med student."

Could these insights into fellow students lead to better team building? "Definitely," said Ms. Farrell. "It was nice to have people come up and ask me about it. It gave me a chance to interact with people I'd not really spoken with before. It's the same with others when I see them present. Sometimes I'm shocked by something that someone has done and I see them in a different light. It's inspiring that these people are my colleagues."

Given this initial success, it is expected that the TED talks will continue. Collaboration with other organizations will be sought to increase participation and speaker diversity. A potential long-range goal is the incorporation of TED talks into the medical school curriculum.

Mr. Kressel and Ms. Farrell have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

American Medical Student Association (AMSA) 61st Annual Convention. Presented March 12, 2011.

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