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Popular article on medical education wins award
Author: Jackie Pienaar-Brink
Published: 09/09/2019

​An article published by two colleagues at the Centre for Health Professions Education (CHPE) in the Medical Education, earned them the Henry Walton Award.

That means that the particular article was só popular that during 2018 it was the most downloaded article on a monthly basis in this journal's two categories.

Twice a year the Medical Educator allows shorter articles to be loaded in the addendum “Really Good Stuff: lessons learned from innovation in Medical Education". The news that Dr Elize Archer and Ms Ilse Meyer's article was the most downloaded one in this category over a one-year period, was officially announced at the beginning of July at the annual congress of the Association for the Study of Medical Education in Glasgow, Scotland.

“Even though international educators are ahead of us in certain fields, this award shows us that our work in South Africa is sufficiently innovative to attract a large number of readers. This is a major accolade for us," said Archer, head of the Simulation and Clinical Skills Unit (SCSU) at the CHPE.

Archer and Meyer, a research assistant at the CHPE, based the article Teaching empathy to undergraduate medical students: 'One glove does not fit all' on the findings of their research study among third-year medical students at the Tygerberg Campus. This was aimed at a teaching intervention that was made possible thanks to a fellowship which the Centre for Teaching and Learning at the Stellenbosch University awarded Archer for the period 2017-2019.

This intervention forms part of the medical students' clinical skills curriculum and has the development of empathetic communication skills as its goal – something medical schools strive for worldwide, as there are indications that empathy levels become reduced as medical students progress with their studies.

“In light of the debate about whether it is at all possible to teach people how to have empathy, it was already a challenge," says Archer. “It took a lot of effort to determine what the components were of what we thought students could learn in this regard."

She explains that with clinical empathy they differentiate between the emotional or affective component and the cognitive component. The cognitive component consists of skills that can be taught to anyone. “By means of an investigation of the broad literature we managed to identify several learning activities which would serve as an intervention during the clinical rotation of the third year students."

It takes place in small groups in the SCSU and attention is paid to listening skills, awareness and interaction with a simulated patient. There is also a learning activity which students must complete online on SUNLEARN in their own time.

For the research study students were asked how they experienced these learning sessions.

Many students said they had found the vulnerability, an essential component of empathy, disturbing. They nevertheless said that they found the focused attention, which accompanies working in small groups, valuable, as they did the individual feedback they received."

“We could not really determine which of the range of activities was good and which bad," says Archer. “The one student would prefer XYZ, but another one's experience would be exactly the opposite.

“From the feedback we received, our chief conclusion was that this was not a one-size-fits-all. It is true that people are different, not just patients, but also lecturers and students. And because the feedback from the students on the different activities was so different, we realised that it was important to use a range of learning and teaching strategies when such initiatives were implemented."

Caption: Ms Ilse Meyer​ and Dr Elize Archer.