Digital Learning Podcast: Episode 1, Dr. Michael Gisondi

In a talk given as part of the Innovation in Teaching Series at the Garage this past October, Dr. Michael Gisondi, Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine and Medical Education and Director of the Residency Program at Feinberg, spoke to the audience about the ways in which social media is changing the landscape of medical education. More specifically, it is enabling medical students to not only access timely information but to share it and use their networks to establish a reputation in a field that might otherwise take decades to accomplish. But, with that timeliness comes a big issue—the massive expanse of new content may appear official, but in many cases may not in fact contain reliable, actionable information.

I met with Dr. Gisondi recently to talk about how social media has not only shaped the way he teaches, but how it’s transforming the field. 



Welcome to Digital Learning, a podcast series from Northwestern where each month we highlight an example of innovative teaching and learning across campus.

Our first guest is Dr. Michael Gisondi, Associate Professor in the Departments of Emergency Medicine and Medical Education at the Feinberg School of Medicine.

I met Dr. Gisondi at a recent Innovation in Teaching Series event hosted by the Garage. If you don’t know about these, they’re a fantastic way to meet colleagues interested in new and innovative ways to teach.

Dr. Gisondi (speaking at the Innovation in Teaching Series event at the Garage): My goal is inspirational. I want you to use social media—try it out as a tool for teaching and learning. 

His talk sparked my interest as using social media as a tool to teach medicine is not something you might immediately expect to go hand in hand.

Dr. Gisondi: I’m certainly a late adopter. I'm out of the 18 to 39 year old demographic that would probably use social media more often than not and I I've never had a Facebook account, so I feel like there's certain disclosures which are very important to understanding the path to using social media in my teaching. I went to a talk in the spring of 2014 entitled from “Twitter to Tenure.” I thought: gosh, I really want tenure. I should go to this talk. It was a panel discussion of a number of folks who were using social media in a variety of ways to teach medicine and in the audience there was a mix of very young residents in training and young faculty members all the way up to senior faculty members who sit on APT committees around the country…

…appointments, promotion and tenure committees…  

Dr. Gisondi: cont. who are hearing a message that social media would allow educators to get their teaching out to a broad audience and perhaps a broader audience than if they were to try to get the same message out in journal articles. They would argue that if you had some new finding in your research or method to better explain or teach a certain principal and you wrote a journal article for a very niche journal, very few people would ever read that article. But if you wrote the same message in a blog post, that blog post could be read instantaneously by thousands and thousands of end-users. And they showed that this dissemination pattern used over and over again could easily catapult a junior faculty’s career with the same national and international reputation that it might take decades for a senior faculty member to obtain.

As Dr. Gisondi began incorporating social media use into his pedagogy, he quickly began to realize that it was effectively de-thorning his side of a couple of persistent issues he had regularly tackled in his role as director of Feinberg’s Emergency Medicine Residency Program.

Dr. Gisondi: I could offer examples: the first is that I felt like student advising for the National Residency Matching Program, or the Match—the way that medical students are assigned their residency training slot—I felt that advising was quite poor. Because of this the students began advising each other and they use social media before we use social media and they have very popular blogs that they use online where they talk to one another and they offer one another some good support through a very stressful time. But they also offer each other a lot of erroneous information that I think I pushes students to make incorrect decisions during this really stressful and very important time. Residency training is what defines a physician. This is the most important period of school that they'll ever have.

Dr. Gisondi and his colleagues at ALiEM – the Academic Life in Emergency Medicine blog – took on this systemic issue by creating …

Dr. Gisondi: … a web series entitled Emergency Medicine Match Advice where myself and a colleague would host panel discussions with three residency program directors from around the country, three different ones for each episode, and we would cover a different aspect of the match: so how to get a really great grade when you're on an away rotation, how to decide which schools to interview at.  

And to their great satisfaction, the series has been a rollicking success. 

Dr. Gisondi: We have web analytics to show how many people access these webisodes, how many minutes of each episode they actually listen to, what parts they listen to more than once… it's very powerful stuff. And it certainly helped us address what we thought was a real-time problem.

The next issue Dr. Gisondi and his ALiEM colleagues took on was job training for chief residents, because, as he says, it …    

Dr. Gisondi: … was never really there. We would take the very, very best residents and we would set them up to fail because they were never actually been trained to do what they needed to do.

Yeesh! That does sounds a tad problematic.

Dr. Gisondi: So we used social media to create a community of practice of chief residents from all over the country—one or two or three chief residents at each institution—all the sudden came together from the 200 schools that sponsor emergency medicine programs and now we have five to six hundred chief residents that we could identify and define as their own community of practice.

By adopting the incubator model from Silicon Valley where a group of like-minded people are paired with a recognized expert for a defined period of intense mentorship, they were able to, in short order, create… 

Dr. Gisondi: … a Chief Resident Incubator where we would bring faculty from all over the country together in a virtual community. We would create curricula throughout the year and address a topic each month in a time-dependent fashion for the different tasks that we assumed that chiefs were encountering all over the country. We would provide training for how to best handle the challenges and obstacles that they were encountering in this brand new role.

But for both the incubator and web series, a singular problem remained relative to the digital world Dr. Gisondi is urging his students into.  

Dr. Gisondi: There's certainly a lot of material that's out there right now and our junior learners are accessing that material often before they've had the foundational knowledge usually provided during residency training.

So it became clear to Dr. Gisondi that finding a way to highlight the best content was going to be essential to making their experiment work.

Gisondi (interview): the AIR Series is offered through ALiEM. They have a group of faculty members who use the social media index and the BEEM score (the Best Evidence in Emergency Medicine score) and they apply these tools to all of the podcasts and blogs that are most highly accessed by faculty and learners across the country. Then they offer what they consider to be the highest content examples of any particular topics. You can go into the AIR Series and say “I want to teach today on congestive heart failure. What podcasts or blogs have been used recently that have gotten tons of hits and that have a peer review mechanism so that I can be comfortable that when I select this podcaster blog to offer to my students that it's going to be of value and high-quality?” 

Before concluding my interview with Dr. Gisondi, I wanted to gain a better understanding of his sense of the place of social media in medical education and, just generally, where this is all going. 

Dr. Gisondi: There are some really amazing things coming down the pike for social media. Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, is probably taking lead in a number of ways. They offer a Social Media Certification to anyone on their campus that teaches them how to use these apps and how to just turn the darn things on. There's now requirements that faculty members in all lines, all academic ranks, must have some social media presence to be promoted. They want this to be part of the regional, national, and international reputations being developed by their faculty. 

Wow! That seems like a seismic shift for higher ed. I wanted to know more about universities adapting to these new approaches.

Dr. Gisondi: Another institution I think that's doing some great things is Penn. They've created the Social Media and Health Innovation Lab and they’re doing many of the same things that Mayo is doing but they are also capturing data from social media and online analytics and usage by their own patients and then by folks in their community to different but perhaps overlapping populations and they're trying to take that information and understand the health of their community through online usage. So if a patient is searching particular topics or if they're accessing particular resources on the Penn webpage, the folks in the Health Innovations Lab capture that data and decide how to better present material, how to create new programs, how to identify new problems within their community.

Dr. Gisondi’s hope is that Feinberg will not only adopt these types of programs, but drive them forward.

Dr. Gisondi: I think Northwestern certainly is poised to be able to improve clinical care and to improve the population health of the community around us. We have a lot of folks with deep interest in social media both for teaching and for research and I think this is a great time for that group to collaborate and induce some exciting things. Not to just replicate what's happening at Penn or Mayo but to think about how to use social media particularly for medical education in very interesting and unique and compelling ways.

If you’re interested in learning more about Dr. Gisondi or his efforts to thoughtfully incorporate social media into his medical pedagogy, you can…

Dr. Gisondi: follow me @MikeGisondi and you can follow our department @NorthwesternEM.

Our thanks to Dr. Gisondi for his time and being our first guest! Next month we’ll be featuring a story on the Knight Lab, a community of designers, developers, students, and educators working on experiments designed to push journalism into new spaces. Until then…