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It’s funny, the things you remember from medical school. Were The Doctor not a family-friendly magazine I would mention the useful mnemonic which helped me learn the cranial nerves, or the equally colourful one for the carpal bones. Both are firmly fixed in my memory – and, I suspect, yours too.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of other things I’ve forgotten. Some were irrelevant to my specialty, and some were probably irrelevant to any specialty (anyone found a use for the Henderson-Hasselbach equation lately?), but plenty would have been really useful if I could only remember them.
Before I went to medical school, someone told me that you don’t have to be particularly clever to be a doctor. It sounded like heresy at the time, but they were absolutely right: a pretty modest intellect will see you through, given diligence, decent interpersonal skills and – importantly – a retentive memory.
So I’m grateful to those teachers, at all levels, who found effective methods to help me remember. Special credit goes to the lecturer at medical school who designed a whole series of little dances to demonstrate cardiac arrhythmias, in which his legs were the ventricles and his arms the atria.
Nothing fixes the nature of ventricular fibrillation in your mind like seeing an otherwise sedate professor jitterbugging around the lecture theatre like an overcaffeinated bumblebee.
Now, as well as being the student, I sometimes get to be the teacher, so it’s my turn to help other people find ways to remember. I once found myself teaching a bunch of more junior doctors how to perform neonatal cranial ultrasound.
The combination of grainy black-and-white images, a wriggly baby, and everyone’s fear of neuroanatomy meant this was seen as a tricky job, but it turns out to be easier if you treat anatomical landmarks as a series of animal pictures.
The supraorbital margins look just like a seagull if you get them at the right angle, and I like to think that there’s a little cohort of trainees out there who will never be able to help thinking of the Sylvian fissure as the mouth of a smiley whale.
Will medical memory become less essential, now that we have access to so much information at the touch of a button? I’m not sure it will: we’ll always need the vocabulary – equivalent, some say, to a whole extra language – to discuss medical issues accurately, and a quick google is no substitute for understanding how anatomy, physiology and biochemistry fit together.
There’ll always be a need for young medics to acquire a vast array of factual knowledge, and tricks – and teachers – which can help them do it are well worth remembering.
By the Secret Doctor. Read the blog and follow @TheSecretDr on Twitter and on Facebook
With regards to Henderson-Hasslebach, you clearly don't have a career in Chemical Pathology! It rears it head every now and again in my world.
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