March 21, 2012

A fresh approach to OphthalmologyAmir Mehralian, MD, Assistant Director of the Ophthalmology Education Program, laughs when he thinks back two years ago to the state of the student “lounge” at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary (IEEI).

“It was like a storage room,” exclaims Dr. Mehralian. “The students couldn’t even all fit in there.”

Feedback from medical students (and rumors of students sneaking out to find better places to relax) set Dr. Mehralian on the hunt for a more suitable lounge/classroom space in the IEEI. Once he found it, Dr. Mehralian decided that the room needed an activity to keep students alert and help reduce stress. A portable ping pong table filled the bill, and is now a popular pastime.

“We even bring the ping pong table into the classroom and fold it up during lectures,” notes Dr. Mehralian. “It helps stimulate the students’ brain activity.”

But ping pong isn’t the only way that Dr. Mehralian makes ophthalmology rotation a more fun and less stressful learning experience for the students. He realized that the everyday environment was important, and noticed that many of the rooms that the students spent long hours in were painted the same shade of blue. Dr. Mehralian’s solution? Paint the classroom a bright, bold orange.

“We try to make the classroom environment fun,” says Dr. Mehralian. “We changed the room color from blue to orange to create a different ambiance.”

Dr. Mehralian also tries to create a party atmosphere in the classroom to keep students engaged and active. Noting that many of the students would arrive to class in the morning tired from late night studying and having skipped breakfast, Dr. Mehralian encourages them to bring their meal along and eat it in class. He also lets students eat and drink during lectures.

“It’s been very effective in helping them to learn,” notes Dr. Mehralian. A unique ophthalmoscopy learning activity that Dr. Mehralian employs is to have the department’s ophthalmic photographer take a picture of each student’s optic nerve. The students then play a “game” in which they receive an anonymous optic nerve photo and must examine each other’s eyes one by one with an ophthalmoscope to determine whose picture they have. Allowing students to use their own notes taken during lectures and videos for the final exam is a good way to keep them on their toes. And Dr. Mehralian videotapes lectures so students can review them as often as they like on their own. One lucky group was treated to a dinner cooked by Dr. Mehralian and their fellow students when they gathered at a colleague’s apartment to study together for their final exam.

To keep students involved in their clinical rotation (when they observe doctors and residents with patients) Dr. Mehralian has them complete a sheet of notes detailing who they saw and what they did. For the upcoming rotation, Dr. Mehralian is planning to award a prize to the resident who is most engaged and interactive with the students.

“None of this would be possible without the support and vision of Ali Djalilian, MD, Director of the Ophthalmology Education Program, who helped open the way to make these things happen,” says Dr. Mehralian. “He has provided the vision and leadership to make this rotation more practical, and changed the curriculum so that the students learn and have fun at the same time.”

A Fresh Approach to Ophthalmology Dr. Amir Mehralian makes rotation fun for medical studentsDr. Mehralian realizes that learning outside of the classroom is also important. He often plans field trips to the International Museum of Surgical Science and beach outings, where students can have lunch and look at each other’s eyes in the outdoor light.

So, while the Ophthalmology rotation is no day at the beach, the novel approach to learning employed by Dr. Djalilian and Dr. Mehralian makes liberal use of the pleasure principle to reinforce learning.