This edition of “5 Questions” is with Doctors in Training (DIT) physician educator Dr. Mike McInnis. Besides being a mini-celebrity to the sleep-deprived 2nd year medical students who use the DIT course for Step 1 prep, Dr. McInnis is also the Director of Production for the wide-variety of services offered by DIT. You can also follow him on twitter for occasional pearls of wisdom and verbal jousting with fellow DIT instructor, Dr. Chris Lewis.
1) How did you get involved with teaching at Doctors in Training (DIT)? What products are you involved with at DIT?
I met DIT founder and president Dr Brian Jenkins at church several years ago, when he was in residency and I was first starting my practice. At the time, he had a little side business teaching live USMLE Step 1 review courses, but the entire company consisted of Dr Jenkins and his wife working out of their home.
We kind of lost touch with one another when he finished residency and went into practice in another part of the state, but then we reconnected in 2010 and he invited me to come on as his Director of Production. By this time, DIT was offering online video courses for USMLE Step 1/COMLEX Level 1 as well as USMLE Step 2 CK/COMPLEX Level 2, and Dr Jenkins was just beginning to branch out into other products (such as Solid Pharmacology and the OMM Review for COMLEX).
As Director of Production, I am involved in all of our products to some extent, whether it be teaching, planning the curriculum and developing the Study Guide materials, supervising guest educators, or reviewing/editing videos. Not that I do all of the work myself. We have a team of medical professionals, professional videographers and video editors, and support staff. But I’m “involved” in all of it, to some extent.
As far as teaching goes, I teach parts of the Step 1 and Step 2 CK Review Courses, and parts of the Solid Pharmacology and Solid Internal Medicine series. I also make some ‘cameo’ appearances in the Solid Anatomy videos, adding clinical correlations and hosting quizzes.
2) Is there a reason you’re teaching through DIT as opposed to at an academic institution? Do you feel there’s more flexibility in how and what you can teach through DIT?
I’ve never really explored teaching at an academic institution. Academics are often researchers first and teachers second. In fact, many academics only teach because their institutions require them to do so, not because they are passionate about it (or any good at it).
Teaching with DIT allows me a huge amount of creative freedom, which makes it exciting and fun. There are things we can do on a video that simply aren’t possible in a live lecture—like video effects and animations. Plus, I get to play dress up. On a video, I can wear a tuxedo and sip a martini when discussing alcoholic liver disease. I can put on a Hawaiian shirt and give a lecture on a tropical island when talking about tropical sprue. We have a lot of fun with costumes, goofy props, and general silliness, which keeps it fresh for us, and hopefully keeps the students focused and engaged.
3) You’re quite active on Twitter- do you find interacting with medical students online has influenced how you teach in your videos?
Without a doubt! My primary reason for creating an “official” Twitter profile about a year ago was to engage with students, to stay in touch with them, and to be available to answer questions. (I have had a ‘personal’ Twitter account—mostly abandoned now—for a few years.)
I love being able to interact with pre-meds and med students on Twitter and keep my finger on the pulse of today’s students, to make sure that my teaching stays relevant and fresh. It pains me to admit it, but I’m pushing 40, and every year I’m farther and farther removed from the average 20-something medical student. Students today have a different frame of reference than I do. You are much more comfortable with electronic books and syllabi than I am. You can watch class lectures online (back in my day, to watch videotaped lectures we had to borrow a VHS tape and watch it in the library). We actually used to check out physical slide projector carousels to review. And I certainly can’t make jokes and pop culture references to stuff that was popular when I was 25 and expect today’s students to relate.
And I love to see students tweet “I don’t understand this brachial plexus lesion” or “These antiarrythmic drugs are killing me!” and being able to respond, “We have a Solid Pharmacology video that might help you out,” along with a link.
4) From your view as an educator, what are some common misconceptions you see medical students have about Step 1 prep?
Some students seem to think that they can ‘cram’ for Step 1, the way they might ‘cram’ for a block exam or a final. There’s no way that will work for the USMLE (or COMLEX); there’s just too much material. It’s crucial that you make a long range study plan over several months, and that you focus on really learning the material well during your first two years of med school. The better you learn it (and truly understand it) the first time around, the easier it will be during the last 4-6 weeks of intensive test prep, because then you are just going back over familiar territory, and knocking the rust off your synapses.
5) Finally, what do you think makes DIT stand out from the rest of the products offered for Step 1 prep?
There are tons of review products, aren’t there? And it seems that new ones come out every year. When I was a student, we only studied for 2-3 weeks, tops. And very few of my classmates used any commercial board prep products, beyond First Aid. (It was only about 250 pages at that point, too!) But Step 1 has become more and more important, and the stakes are higher and higher, and residencies are more and more competitive. The average USMLE Step 1 score is about 15-20 points higher now than it was in 1998, when I took it!
Doctors In Training has over 10 years of experience preparing students for this exam. We’ve taught more than 18,000 students. We have a really good understanding of what topics are important for Step 1, and what topics students are already comfortable with. We don’t waste time covering low-yield facts, or stuff that is so simple and so basic that 99% of students have already mastered it. We try to teach in a simple, straightforward way, making connections between different disciplines, and reinforcing what you’ve already learned through quizzes and reviews.
We also try to make it somewhat entertaining, and fun. We use humor to make things memorable. We try to engage students on an emotional level (through humor, fear, anger, and even occasionally sex appeal), because that makes the learning stronger. We try to engage students on a kinesthetic or tactile level, by having students take out a piece of paper and write something down with us, or by using props and visual aids that serve as a “hook” that you can hang bits of information on. We’re adding more onscreen text, and graphics/charts/illustrations/animations—anything and everything we can do to help students get every possible point on their exam.
Our company motto is “Better Doctors. Better World.” And we really believe that. If we can help students learn more and become better physicians, those better physicians will have a positive impact on the health of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of patients over the course of their careers. That’s our passion. Better doctors create a better world.
Have a question for Dr. McInnis? Send him a tweet!