This is a guest post from WesternU medical student Evan Yates.
Since the first days of kindergarten, we have become accustomed to a typical style of receiving information- a teacher rattles off facts, we digest it, and regurgitate it on a Scantron. Fast forward 20 years to my second year of medical school, and aside from the Starbucks cups now glued to my hand, the teaching methodologies have remained constant.
While sitting through my 6th hour of lecture one day, I thought to myself- should these orthodox teaching methodologies eventually evolve? Is the way we learned the alphabet the most effective way for us to learn which class of anti-hypertensive medications can also cause ototoxicity? Or is there an untapped market out there for novel tools to better integrate complex information into manageable bites to bed drawn upon later on?
Several companies saw this opening and chose to exploit the glaring hole in this niche market. Companies like Firecracker, SketchyMedical, and Pathoma, to name a few, have emerged in a big way to provide medical students with extra resources to nudge their Type-A-Personality-Noses ahead. With these resources out there, the next question is- will they survive?
Just like how taxis were replaced seemingly overnight by Uber and Lyft, will these companies uproot the traditional teaching styles we’re accustomed to? Well, the quick and dirty answer is no- but there has to be some way to measure the success of these companies to see if they will stand the test of time and be used as a pseudo-permanent fix in the medical education systems.
At the end of the day, medical students will vote on how they want to learn with their time and money. With USMLE Step 1 scores consistently and reliably rising year to year, students often look to blogs or previous students records on what worked for them. One of the most popular board study methods has been UFAP (U-World, First Aid, Pathoma). This is a very bare-bones program that has become extremely popular thanks to it going viral on the r/medicalschool subreddit. Students want something with a proven track record that, if they follow the steps laid out, results will follow. That’s why companies like Firecracker have “243-Average USMLE Firecracker user score”, plastered on their website. We want results, plain and simple.
Guaranteed higher board scores aside, there are a few other facets of these new platforms that adds appeal to millennials that previous teaching never tapped into- ease of accessibility from phones and tablets. I can’t tell you how many times I’ll be standing in line at Starbucks flipping through some Firecracker questions. It’s easy, it’s convenient, and it makes us feel as if we’re maximizing our already scant time.
Not only are students feeling the need to take advantage of these resources, whole medical institutions are starting to beta test the integration of these tools into their curriculum (Ed note: WesternU has begun integrating Firecracker into parts of their curriculum, more to come in future posts). I know personally, having something like Firecracker to give me immediate, topic-relevant questions that I could power through after a lecture would have been paramount in my success. These companies are also starting to implement “smart-strategies” in which the frequency of content or questions that students will see will be generated off of the students’ assessment of ease.
Whether or not these specific companies listed will stand the test of time, I have no doubt education technology is only going to be gaining popularity as the world transitions less-and-less from pen and paper lesson plans, and to more into fast and efficient smart phone applications.
Evan Yates is a second year medical student at Western University of Health Sciences. Reach him on twitter: @evanyates1.