Lessons from a training guru

9 11 2012

Yesterday I attended a course on how to critically appraise medical research studies.  Part of my role is to train doctors, nurses and other staff on how to understand the strengths and weaknesses of research so I was hopeful that I’d pick up some useful ideas.  I’d also been told that the doctor running the course was an international guru on critical appraisal so my expectations were high!

The course was brilliant.  Critical appraisal is quite a difficult subject to teach because there’s a lot of theory involved.  The trainer approached this in a really creative way.  There was over 50 people on the course, and we were in a lecture theatre so there was no room to break up into small groups.  Each person had a workbook and a digital handset.  Periodically, the trainer would make us answer some questions in our workbook, then share our answers with the room by ‘voting’ using our digital handsets (in the style of ‘Ask the Audience’ in Who Wants to be a Millionaire).  It was a really effective way of checking learning as we went along and it also made sure you paid attention because you knew that a question would be coming up soon.  There wasn’t that fear of exposure that you feel if you have to speak in front of a large group; it felt ‘safe’ to take a guess at a question even if you gave a wrong answer. 

The trainer also used a lot of practical examples and anecdotes to illustrate the ideas behind the theory.  For example, the Hawthorne effect is a term to describe how patients often change their behaviour when they are being observed in a trial.  The effect is named after a ‘Mr Hawthorne’ who was a factory boss who one day had to move offices.  He set up his desk temporarily on the shop floor.  During this period, productivity in the factory went through the roof!  Small examples like that are the ones that stick in my head, so I can draw some inspiration from this approach for my own training.

I felt fairly comfortable with most of the session content, except for the part of the afternoon that covered interpreting medical statistics.  I’ve always struggled with maths and in the past whenever numbers have come up in a training session, a mental wall appeared and I completely glazed over.  I seem to need longer to take in the information than everyone else!  I really tried so hard to concentrate, but unfortunately the same thing happened.  I got myself completely lost during the exercises and felt really stupid when other people around me were having no trouble at all working out Number Needed to Treat (NNT) and Absolute Risk Reduction (ARR) calculations.  Gah!  The more stupid I felt, the less I concentrated and by the end I had stopped listening altogether.  I was really disappointed.  I knew that this was a weak area of mine and I hadn’t been able to overcome my usualt reaction.  I don’t feel that statistics are something I’ll ever be able to train other people on, if I can’t even understand the numbers myself!

Statistics aside, it was a thoroughly interesting day and I came away with some really useful ideas on how to make my own training more appealing to participants.  I also extended my knowledge in a range of areas, and will feel much more confident with the subject next time I’m delivering training.  I’m already planning my next session…