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Educational psychology of medical training

Medical training has high stakes, sometimes higher than other forms of training. It involves working with a very complex subject matter and having to make life and death calls.

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Medical training has high stakes, sometimes higher than other forms of training. It involves working with a very complex subject matter and having to make life and death calls. It is important to provide an education that takes into account the needs of the learner to offer good outcomes. Here is where educational psychology might contribute to medical training, providing better strategies for teaching.

The clinical learning environment can be shaped by many factors. Psychology can offer ideas and theories that allow this environment to improve outcomes. Psychology can offer constructs and attributes that help conceptualize the central aspects of successful learning, such as psychological safety. An essential element that allows learning to occur is this safety that makes people feel that they can speak out and ask questions. This safety is shaped by having just environments that promote learning by removing distractions and embracing learning as a core value.

Students in academic environments face significant challenges, and medicine and health-related fields are linked to high volumes of information that need to be memorized, processed, and employed in practice. This makes theories like Cognitive Load Theory especially significant. 

Cognitive Load Theory involves the central premise that information should be presented in particular ways so that people can memorize it successfully and later recall it. Information places a load on working memory, but by changing and improving presentation, it is possible to reduce their load, which improves learning outcomes. This is influenced by the way learning is offered and the strategies used to promote retention and might also be impacted by complex psychological and social factors, such as well-being and interaction with peers.

CLT is one theory that helps improve learning by lighting the cognitive load and finding effective strategies to do so. This can involve cognitive aspects, like chunking the information, but also emotional aspects, such as creating safety and reducing painful emotions, increasing the presence of positive emotions, and boosting aspects like academic buoyancy, as well as cognitive regulation.

This is one theory that can support medical training. It provides a theoretical basis for practical changes that can be implemented to improve retention and performance among medical students. Educational psychology can create direct interventions that might be used in medical training and structure the information and learning inefficient ways, and consider the other factors, like well-being and emotions, that can influence training. There are many ways to teach, and educational psychology can offer insights into the most effective ones for medical training. For instance, comparisons between traditional didactic lectures and problem-based lectures among medical students find that problem-based lectures offer better results and greater retention.

Educational psychology can also be applied to the design of instructional materials in the medical profession and the design of learning experiences. Pretraining, for instance, can help improve retention from educational materials and can be used to make them more effective for nursing students.

Psychology, in general, is meant to understand how individuals thrive, while educational psychology can provide the application for its principles in improving educational outcomes, enhancing the well-being of the students in medical training. Creating environments that favor learning, improving the materials and presentation of the information, and understanding the basic underlying principles of learning can make medical education more successful, which can, in turn, improve the experience of patients, the decision-making process throughout the medical careers of these students, and offer win-win scenarios that allow to maximize education and use the available resources in the best possible ways.

Medical education has its share of issues and challenges, such as the extensive amounts of information the students have to memorize and the heavy cognitive load it creates. Some issues emerge suddenly, for instance, the changes associated with the coronavirus pandemic beginning in 2020, which led to students moving to remote education scenarios or losing out on some specific experiences). Approaching the creation of new educational scenarios and ways to support these students is especially important for the medical profession and should rely on evidence-based practices.

Working in healthcare requires good and comprehensive knowledge and skills that come from a well-rounded education. There might be emerging challenges that students face and, in general, the need to create successful educational practices and environments. Educational psychology can offer just that.

Read More:

  • Alaagib, N.A., Musa, O.A. & Saeed, A.M. Comparison of the effectiveness of lectures based on problems and traditional lectures in physiology teaching in Sudan. BMC Med Educ 19, 365 (2019).
  • Caverzagie, Kelly & Goldenberg, Mitchell & Hall, Jena. (2019). Psychology and learning: The role of the clinical learning environment. Medical Teacher. 41. 1-5. 10.1080/0142159X.2019.1567910. 
  • Gill, D., Whitehead, C. and Wondimagegn, D., 2020. Challenges to medical education at a time of physical distancing. The Lancet, 396(10244), pp.77-79.
  • Hawthorne BS, Vella-Brodrick DA and Hattie J (2019) Well-Being as a Cognitive Load Reducing Agent: A Review of the Literature. Front. Educ. 4:121. doi: 10.3389/feduc.2019.00121
  • Salehi V, Moradimokhles H, Ghasemtabar S A, Qarabaghi H. Effect of Pre-Training on Nursing Students’ Intrinsic Cognitive Load, Learning and Instructional Efficiency. RME. 2017; 9 (3) :46-38

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