Team-based learning sets College of Medicine Physician Assistant Program apart

Throughout college and graduate school, Amelia Poplawski learned very efficiently from her textbooks and lectures, so the first-year student in Penn State College of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Program was surprised when a tool she had never heard of – team-based learning – enhanced her studying.

“I am amazed at how much more enjoyable learning is,” said Poplawski, who was introduced to team-based learning when she sat in on a class during her interview process. “I could never have anticipated how much of an impact it would make.”

Sometimes referred to as “the flipped classroom,” team-based learning encourages the student to develop deep thinking and teamwork skills that are especially important in an increasingly team-based approach to medicine, according to Chris Bruce, program director and team-based learning coordinator of the PA Program. In comparison to other programs nationally, Penn State’s program devotes significant classroom hours weekly to true team-based learning.

The team-based learning model has three main components. Before class, students read educational materials or complete another activity. As class begins, a test is completed individually on that material. Students then join their pre-assigned group to collaborate on a group test that contains the same questions. Group members select and defend their answers; in cases of disagreement, students discuss until they select the correct answer.

The third part of team-based learning is what really “blows us out of the water compared to other programs,” Bruce said: Clinical scenarios are presented and student groups must problem solve together on diagnosis or next steps for care and defend their choices.

For example:  A 45-year-old patient has recurrent right upper quadrant abdominal pain that moves to the right side of her back and right shoulder. She is nauseous and vomiting. Three months ago, she had a similar episode after going out to eat. She already had an ultrasound that was negative for any stones or abnormalities. What’s the next step you should pursue in this patient’s care?

“Peer to peer teaching becomes very meaningful,” said Bruce, who intentionally makes the groups as diverse as possible to broaden perspectives. “Active student engagement is the secret to developing deep knowledge and being able to apply it in the clinical setting.”

To learn more about how team-based learning is utilized in the Physician Assistant Program, read this Penn State Medicine article.

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Last Updated May 11, 2017