You’ve Been Pimped! Again!

What exactly is pimping? If you have ever been a medical student or resident in any discipline, you probably already know. It’s ostensibly a form of Socratic teaching in which an attending physician poses a (more or less) poignant question to one or more learners. The learners are then queried (often in order of their status on the seniority “totem pole”) until someone finally gets the answer. But typically, it doesn’t stop there. Frequently, the questioning progresses to the point that only the attending knows the answer.

So how did this time honored tradition in medical education come about? The first reference in the literature attributes it to none other than William Harvey, who first described the circulatory system in detail. He was disappointed with his students’ apparent lack of interest in learning about his area of expertise. He was quoted as saying “they know nothing of Natural Philosophy, these pin-heads. Drunkards, sloths, their bellies filled with Mead and Ale. O that I might see them pimped!”

Other famous physicians participated in this as well. Robert Koch, the founder of modern bacteriology, actually recorded a series of “pümpfrage” or “pimp questions” that he used on rounds. And in 1916, a visitor at Johns Hopkins noted that he “rounded with Osler today. Riddles house officers with questions. Like a Gatling gun. Welch says students call it ‘pimping.’ Delightful.”

So it’s been around a long time. And yes, it has some problems. It promotes hierarchy, because the attending almost always starts questions at the bottom of the food chain. So the trainees come to know their standing in the eyes of the attending. And they also can appreciate where their fund of (useful?) knowledge compares to their “peers.” It demands quick thinking, and can certainly create stress. And a survey published last year showed that 50% of respondents were publicly embarrassed during their clinical rotations. What portion of this might have been due to pimping was not clear.

Does pimping work? Only a few small studies have been done. Most medical students have been involved with and embarrassed by it. But they also responded that they appreciated it as a way to learn. A 2011 study compared pimping (Socratic) methods to slide presentations in radiology education. Interestingly, 93% preferred pimping, stating that they felt their knowledge base improved more when they were actively questioned, regardless of whether they knew the answer.

So here are a few guidelines that will help make this technique a positive experience for all:

For the “pimpers”:

  • Make sure that the difficulty level of questions is reasonable. You are testing your learners’ knowledge, not spotlighting your own mental encyclopedia
  • Build the level of difficulty from questions that most can answer to one or two that no one knows, then switch to didactice teaching of the esoterica
  • Don’t let one learner dominate the answers; gently exclude them and solicit answers from others so they get a chance to participate
  • Provide positive reinforcement for correct answers, but don’t resort to negative reinforcement (insults) when they are wrong
  • Go Socratic when the answer is not known. Step back and review the basic concepts involved that helps your learners arrive at the correct answer.

For the “pimpees”:

  • Read, read, read! You are in this to learn, so study all the clinical material around you.
  • Talk to your seniors to find out your attending’s areas of interest. There’s a lot of stuff to learn, and this may help you focus your rounding preparation a bit. It still doesn’t absolve you from learning about all the other stuff, though.
  • Don’t be “that guy (or gal)” who tries to dominate and answer every question
  • If all else fails, and it’s one of those “percentage” questions, use my
    “85/15 rule.”
    If the issue you are being asked about seems pretty likely, answer “85%.” If it seems unlikely, go with “15%.” It’s usually close enough to the real answer to satisfy.

Bottom line: Pimping is a time-honored tradition in medicine, but should not be considered a rite of passage. There is a real difference in attitudes and learning if carried out properly. Even attendings have a thing or two to learn about this!

Reference: The art of pimping. JAMA. 262(1):89-90, 1989.

You’ve Been Pimped!

You know what I’m talking about. It’s a mainstay of medical education for physicians. It starts in medical school, and generally never stops. And when you finish your residency,  you graduate from being pimped to being the pimper.

How did this all come to be? Is it good for education? Bad? Tune in tomorrow to learn more. In the meantime, enjoy this algorithm on how to get through a pimping session. Click to view full-size.


Source: Posted by Dr. Fizzy on The Almost Doctor’s Channel

How Much Radiation is the Trauma Team Really Exposed To?

Previously, I posted about “other people” wearing perfectly good lead aprons lifting them up to their chin during portable xrays in the trauma bay. Is that really necessary, or is it just an urban legend?

Lead apron fly

After hitting the medical radiation physics books (really light reading, I must say), I’ve finally got an answer. Let’s say that the xray is taken in the “usual fashion”:

  • Portable technique in your trauma bay
  • Tube is approximately 5 feet above the xray plate
  • Typical chest settings of 85kVp, 2mAs, 3mm Al filtration
  • Xray plate is 35x43cm

The calculated exposure to the patient is 52 microGrays. Most of the radiation goes through the patient onto the plate. A very small amount reflects off their bones and the table itself. This is the scatter we worry about.

So let’s assume that the closest person to the patient is 3 feet away (1 meter). Remember that radiation intensity diminishes as the square of the distance. So if the distance doubles, the intensity decreases to one fourth. By calculating the intensity of the small amount of scatter at 3 feet from the patient, we come up with a whopping 0.2 microGrays. Since most people are even further away, the dose is much, much less for them.

Let’s put it perspective now. The background radiation we are exposed to every day (from cosmic rays, brick buildings, etc) amounts to about 2400 microGrays per year. So 0.2 microGrays from chest xray scatter is less than the radiation we are exposed to naturally in about 44 minutes!

The bottom line: unless you need to work out you shoulders and pecs, don’t bother to lift your lead apron every time the portable xray unit beeps. It’s a waste of time and effort, unless you are dealing with xray imaging on a very regular basis! And that 52 microGrays the patient absorbed? That’s 8 days worth of background radiation.

What’s Wrong With My Patient? Part 2

In my previous post, I described a young man who had recovered from a stab to the heart. He did well for a week and a half, but then presented to the ED with significant chest pain. It seems to be substernal and somewhat pleuritic. What should you do to work it up further?

There have been a number of helpful comments. The first order of business is to rule out problems which may prove to be life threatening. In his case, ischemic disease and some failure of the repair must be ruled out quickly. Although ischemia or MI are unlikely in this young man, they are possible and should be evaluated.

I recommend the following:

  • Auscultate the chest and heart (remember this from medical school?)
  • PA chest x-ray
  • EKG
  • CBC
  • Troponin
  • FAST exam focusing on the heart

My list is short and simple, and should help me figure out nearly all significant problems.

In this case, the following findings are present:

  • The lungs are clear, and their is a faint cardiac friction rub
  • The chest x-ray is unremarkable
  • EKG shows ST elevations in two of the lateral leads only. Otherwise, it is normal.
  • CBC is normal with the exception of WBC 14,000
  • There is a trace level of troponin present
  • FAST demonstrates a very small pericardial effusion without clot

So what do you make of all this? What’s the diagnosis? What do you need to do? Tweets and comments please.

Answers tomorrow!