Why radiologists must break from current teaching tactics and adopt the ‘look ahead’ approach

It can be hard for medical students to truly experience how radiologists work, but a new approach promises to take them off the sidelines and into the reading room.

The “look ahead” method, described Feb. 13 in Academic Radiology, allows young learners to interpret images, work with informatics systems and receive feedback on their conclusions. And unlike current passive learning strategies, students found the design valuable and engaging.

“Rather than being asked to take part in the day-to-day practices of a radiologist, students are frequently relegated to a position of passive observation and shadowing,” Jennifer Huang, MD, a radiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and colleagues said. “The experience quickly becomes tedious, forgettable, and easy or boring.”

More often than not, radiologists’ busy schedules and lack of pay for teaching, among other things, force students into this passive role. Many, however, want a more engaging experience, the authors noted. And prior academic studies demonstrating the success of experimental techniques such as flipped classrooms, online case-based models and adaptive case-based programs support this idea, they added.

Medical students enrolled in a radiology course who used the novel approach viewed nonurgent images on an unused picture archiving and communication station or laptop, drawing their own conclusions. Once they were ready, the learners presented their findings to an expert, discussed the case, received feedback and watched as the radiologist created a final report.

Sixty students were asked to complete a survey comparing the “look ahead” method with the current standard, which involves observing an expert interpreting studies while reading associated teaching points. The 34 responses were overwhelmingly positive; students found the new program more “interesting” and “memorable” than traditional teaching. 

Specifically, they said the look-ahead technique increased their interest, engagement, offered more educational value, and improved their “memorability of the case.”

There are a number of ways the authors believe they can improve the educational design of their program, including measuring how it impacts students’ career choices. Despite this, the investigators urged radiology educators to begin thinking of ways to incorporate the new method into practice.

“Breaking from the traditional way of teaching can be understandably difficult for some radiologists, particularly with busy caseloads and other frequent disruptions,” the authors wrote. “However, taken together, the results of our study suggest that the 'look ahead' technique for medical student instruction in the radiology reading room promotes active student engagement and instills educational value.”