Sandy Rao ’19, is a self-described talker. Whether speaking in public, teaching, or talking with friends, she’s in her element, but her love of talking does not preclude careful listening.
During the spring annual meeting of the American Association of Anatomists (AAA) in Chicago, IL, Rao brought both skills to bear as she spoke about the benefit of incorporating problem-based learning (PBL) into anatomy medical education. As part of a four-student panel on innovative educational modalities in anatomy—Student Debate on Modern Anatomical Pedagogies: Beyond the Literature—she and each panelist gave a 10-minute talk on different learning modalities then fielded questions from curious anatomy professors.
At first glance, PBL, which requires evaluating information, may not make sense in context of the fact-based learning anatomy requires, but Rao sees a correlation and offers an explanation
“The important thing to remember is that as physicians we need to be applying what we learned in the anatomy lab, which extends beyond knowledge of muscles and nerves,” she says. “PBL focuses on communication skills, research, and our intrinsic motivation to learn. It is really about questions we may have about a patient—not only do we need to be able to find the answers, but we must be able to convey them in a way that others, especially patients, can understand.”
Communication and pedagogy in medicine are issues Rao cares deeply about. During her first year as president of Geisel’s Medical Education Scholars, she created and led student sessions around the topics, and as a Rodis Compassion Scholar she created a workshop designed around non-verbal communication when interacting with patients. “We discussed active listening and the nonverbal signals we may be inadvertently sending to and receiving from our patients—we then watched videos of those interactions and discussed what we learned from watching.”
Last summer, along with Virginia Lyons, PhD, associate professor of medical education, Rao developed neuroscience review videos for medical students in the year 1 neuroscience course. The goal was to produce videos explaining some of the more difficult concepts to help future students. Rao organized the information and then presented it in a clear, easily understandable format. That working relationship led to Lyons asking Rao if she was interested in being a student panelist at the AAA’s upcoming annual meeting.
“I am a member of the Educational Affairs Committee (EAC) of the AAA and one of our tasks is to plan the annual meeting. We decided we wanted a symposium that would showcase the student perspective of different pedagogical innovations faculty are using to teach anatomy such as PBL, TBL (team-based learning), and flipped classroom.” Lyons says. “We have a student member on the EAC (Kip Sawyer from Tufts University School of Medicine) who was tasked with putting together the symposium. Last fall, Kip began looking for students to participate and he asked if I knew anyone who might be interested. I immediately thought of Sandy due to her role in the Med Ed Scholars program and her strong interest in pedagogy and medical education.”
Rao’s presentation explored the use of PBL to teach anatomical and embryologic concepts. “She did a phenomenal job discussing the pros and cons of this pedagogy, and presenting the student perspective of learning in this format,” Lyons says. “Multiple anatomical colleagues approached me after the symposium to tell me how well ‘my student’ had done—she was poised, knowledgeable and well-spoken. I was proud having Sandy represent Geisel at the AAA.”
And for Rao, “It was a great opportunity—Dr. Lyons, and Dr. Nierenberg, were extremely supportive of my participation.”