At Stanford #MedX | ED, Breakthroughs and a Prescription for Change

By Jennifer J. Salopek

As editor of Wing of Zock for the past four years, I have had the honor of learning about hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innovative ideas to reimaging medical education. On the first day of the inaugural Stanford Medicine X | ED conference Wednesday, I got enough new ideas to fuel a year’s worth of posts. A diverse lineup of presenters—educators, students, and patients—collectively created, through words, images, videos, and music, a vision of a possible future for medical education. They reported on promising innovations in medical education that aim to better prepare the doctors of tomorrow. Accompanied by colored lights, diffuse video backgrounds, and a varied soundtrack, the high-energy atmosphere that is the hallmark of Stanford Medicine X pervaded a conference on medical education.

Designed to be different in every way from traditional academic meetings, Med X | ED features numerous icebreaking and networking opportunities; a low-key product exhibit area; announcements by Gary Williams, the voice of the San Francisco 49ers (“the voice of God”); and constant visual reminders of its living mascot, Zoe, a French bulldog owned by MedX executive director Larry Chu, MD. Attendees received glowsticks in their registration packets that they used to reward effective presenters.

“Jazz and glowsticks. Things not found at traditional #meded meetings,” tweeted Bryan Vartabedian, MD, a gastroenterologist from Baylor University in Houston.

The trappings, rather than making the content seem less serious, instead make it more accessible, more memorable. The entire conference is an incarnation of the Von Restorff effect, a concept I learned just this morning, that posits that we are more likely to remember things that are unusual, or fun, or inappropriate. While you might not remember the last session you attended on interprofessional education, you would remember the one Paul Haidet, MD, delivered. Haidet, a general internist and health sciences researcher at Penn State University Hershey, used three recordings of the same jazz standard, “Waltz with Debbie,” to illustrate the ways in which small teams can collaborate. It’s likely that many attendees were searching iTunes for the tracks afterward.

Taking its theme from Chu’s opening remarks, in which he said, “The care we receive tomorrow depends on the doctors we prepare today,” the schedule featured 10-minute Ignite! talks, panel discussions, and keynote presentations by Howard Rheingold and Abraham Verghese, MD. Topics ranged from the collaborative redesign of a mental health unit in Nashville to the use of whiteboard videos to encourage healthy behaviors to the rise of medical student communities of practice. Leveraging technology and social media, it is clear that medical schools are trying to address the needs and learning styles of this generation of learners.

But presentations also included pleas to close the gaps, including Ignite! talks by Nisha Pradhan, who lamented the lack of instruction in creativity and critical thinking skills. In true Medicine X style, her presentation was nicely balanced by that of Dutch medical student Tim Van de Grift, who talked about the importance of art in medicine. Continuing the thoughts addressed in his spring New York Times editorial, Dhruv Khullar discussed the need for more time to spend with patients. Gallaudet professor Joseph Santini delivered his talk in American Sign Language as he observed conditions that reduce access for patients and students with disabilities.

Medicine X is a conference that teaches about social media and relies on it. As presenters discussed the ways social media can be used for patient-driven medical education, pharmacy education, research, patient advocacy, and other efforts, the Twitterverse was alight with tweets from the meeting. [Full disclosure: I had the privilege of guest tweeting from the @StanfordMedicineX account.]

Symplur analytics show that the conference generated more than 6,000 tweets and 32 million impressions. [This information was delivered personally by Audun Utengen, co-founder of Symplur and the Healthcare Hashtag Project. You get to meet the most amazing people here.] Backchannel conversations included the sharing of resources, idea generation, and promises to get together IRL or virtually to move new initiatives forward. One proposal that got a lot of traction was the idea of pairing medical students with patient mentors.

A panel of current medical students, moderated by Roheet Kakaday, provided real insights into what it’s like to be a medical student today: dealing with many distractions, connected but trying to be efficient, seeking disruptive models like those that exist outside of education, and striving to connect learning with lived experience. The improvements they suggested included more interdisciplinary classes, an increase in the number and type of med schools unencumbered by traditional structures, education as a continuum, and competency-based models.

In his Ignite! talk, Stanford medical school dean Charles Prober discussed his institution’s attempts to meet millennial learners where they are, through the development of a multi-institutional “blended curriculum of the future.”

Patient speakers provided moving accounts of their own (mostly negative) experiences with the health care system as they shared ways in which providers and patients can work together more closely. Dave de Bronkart, who recently served as a visiting professor at the Mayo Clinic, exhorted against academic arrogance.

“We must not train another generation of clinicians who do not know that it’s okay to admit that you don’t know something, and that it’s a tragedy with consequences if you pretend that you do,” he said.

The most profound learning experiences for me came with the presentations by Emily Kramer-Golinkoff and Leslie Rott. Kramer-Golinkoff poignantly described her experience with a rare form of cystic fibrosis as she noted that the factions of medical and pharmaceutical research are perversely incented. “I’m an orphan with a ticking clock [who] doesn’t have time to wait for a normal drug approval timeline,” she said. Rott discussed her experience as a graduate student struggling to earn her Ph.D. while dealing with a chronic illness.

“The best lessons come from interactions with patients, not what is in the textbooks,” she said.

Jennifer-1990-webJennifer J. Salopek is founding editor of Wing of Zock. She can be reached at, or follow her on Twitter @jsalopek.  

2 thoughts on “At Stanford #MedX | ED, Breakthroughs and a Prescription for Change

  1. Nice summary of an amazing meeting. Despite a medical world changing faster than any one of us can keep up, there’s little discussion concerning the substantive change of medical education.

    Medicine X has started the conversation.

  2. Thank you for capturing so many highlights of this incredible meeting! There was so much quality material, delivered by so many top-notch presenters, that it was hard to remember everything on my own. I’m especially glad that Wing of Zock is making this conference better known to the academic medicine community – this meeting truly represents the future of medicine, and it will be exciting to watch it grow with more participation every year. Excellent post.

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