Demystifying Medicine: Knowledge Translation through Video

By Biljana Njegovan

April 25, 2018

Demystifying medicine began in 2002 as a seminar at NIH (National Institutes of Health). The seminar series came to McMaster in 2012. The series includes presentations of patients, pathology, diagnosis and therapy in the context of major disease and current research. The series is directed towards undergraduate and graduate students, post-doctoral fellows and researchers, medical students and clinicians. The seminar series is based on the concept of combining clinical, patient, and science perspectives on any given medical issue. The clinician’s share what is known and unknown about the disease, the patients can speak to what it’s like to live with this disease and can offer a perspective on the challenges they face. Thirdly, the scientist can share what is known about the disease and what needs to be known in order to fix the issue.By Biljana Njegovan

The undergraduate course (HTS 4DM3) in Knowledge Translation and Communication was created from the McMaster Demystifying Medicine medical seminar series. The way that the course works: students in Demystifying Medicine attend the weekly seminar series, they pick out what’s most important, or most intriguing, or even most confusing to them. The students will then come back and share their thoughts with the class and then they make 5 minute videos breaking down whatever topic they’ve picked. The goal is to explain it in plain language and to hopefully clarify the subject. The course content is primarily made up of the seminar series talks.

The Demystifying Medicine (4DM3) course instructors are Dr. Kjetil Ask, Dr. Renee Labiris, and Dr. Darren Bridgewater. Dr. Kjetil Ask was kind enough to sit down for an interview to talk about Demystifying Medicine.



The Demystifying Medicine course

The course content primarily comes from the seminar series. Every other week the students attend the seminar and will identify something that was talked about that needs further explanation or demystification. This act of clarifying, or demystifying, difficult concepts is the basis of the course. Students take these questions that they’ve identified and work to create short videos to shed some light on the difficult topics.  As Dr. Ask puts it, “You pay more attention this way and you likely will better understand it because you’ve had to choose the main idea from a 2hr seminar. We ask the students: “What was the most complicated idea that needs some help to be able to be communicated to others?” The students discuss this back in class and its the choice of the group to pick what they focus on for the video. We have a process built into the course that involves the seminar series but it also involves the students submitting scripts, and meeting small deadlines along the way. The process is key behind this. Everything is up to the students; they have full creative control. We leave it up to them about what kind of technology, software, programs they want to chose. It is a part of the process. The students also decide if they want to explain a concept, provide overviews, or do patient interviews.”

“Take something complex and make it understandable.Learning by doing.”

Embracing tech tools

Health Sciences students aren’t typically expected to be comfortable with media production. The fact that HTS 4DM3 are able to familiarize themselves with multi-media tools and production, all while doing their knowledge translation work is impressive. According to Dr. Ask the students in 4DM3 do not receive any multimedia training as a part of this course, “It can be a challenging exercise but only to a certain extent. These are fourth year students and most of them are very brilliant. They figure it out, and that’s a part of the learning. They may struggle a bit with the first video and it may take a long time but we find that the second video comes quickly. Once they get through the first one some groups get so efficient they are making 8+ videos per semester and they start doing it for other classes and other projects. In the course outlines we give two videos for learning and they aren’t graded but we want them to go through the process and show the video in class and this teaches them more than a tutorial on how to use software.”

The videos have been gaining steady views on YouTube, although view counts don’t seem to be an emphasis in this course. Dr. Ask monitors the channel and periodically picks out interesting comments for the class to respond to.

Grading creative work

Grading creative work can be difficult because creative expression is subjective. How do you determine if a video project is a success?  The students in Demystifying Medicine identify their target audience and they try to make the videos in a way that would appeal to that audience. According to Dr. Ask, “It can become tricky to grade. For example, if the target audience is 10 year old’s and the audience seems satisfy, then how can I disagree? Everybody knows when you look at a video if it is good or interesting. Everybody has an innate idea of whats good. Some students want to know exactly what they must do (and no more) to get a good grade. Students push for this ‘legal jargon’ and doing the minimum required. That’s killing the course as far as learning is concerned. All we are after are enthusiastic students and in depth understanding of complicated topics. For example, we have groups that have made 9 educational videos and they have given solid feedback to other groups. You have people after 3 months that have some real experience. It’s not about doing it once and getting a good mark and moving on. These students are trained to work well and to produce. They have been sitting for hours every Monday for 13 weeks arguing about is this good, can it be better?” By going through the process of translating knowledge and producing videos the students end up with many useful transferable skills.”

Community engagement and beyond

The Demystifying Medicine course has had an impact off campus through various forms of community engagement. The course has been involved with the Canadian Kidney Foundation, Hamilton Scleroderma Fund, and the Canadian Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. Patients from these foundations have had opportunities to ask questions that get passed to the students for video responses. The video responses done by the students make an attempt at answering difficult medical questions, there is no guarantee that the question will be fully answered. Sometimes there are no answers. This is an iterative process and feedback from the patients is welcomed with open arms.   As Dr. Ask puts it, “The videos should allow the patient to feel they are a part of addressing the question. It should be enjoyable, informative, and the evidence should seem good enough. Sometimes there is no answer for some questions. We also work with high schools in Hamilton. They help us evaluate the content and they provide questions. They work with the Healthy Aging Portal. They get questions online and they vote on their top questions that we give to our students to work on answering through videos.”

Another form of community engagement has happened through the work with local high schools. Students from certain high schools have been invited to campus to offer feedback on the Demysitifyuing Medicine videos. The high school students are able to honestly comment on the videos and offer up their feedback. This cycle has now been adapted and certain high school students are making similar videos for grade 7 students, and the process of demystifying difficult concepts, and feedback is being repeated. Dr. Ask highlights his belief on active learning, “You have to do something to learn. Or, do and learn by failing, we believe in inquiry based learning.  It makes them feel good and involved and like they are doing something useful. For the 7th graders to get more out of this they will have to make vids for 4th graders. You only learn if you are actively involved in shaping the material.”


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