“To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all.”
The words of Sir William Osler, the acclaimed father of modern medicine, are still no less profound. They hark from an age when medicine still retained a sense of ceremony: an amphitheatre filled to the rafters, the clinicians poised in their white coats and ties, all eyes convergent on their quarry or rather the patient seated before them. Any memory of such scenes live out a vestigial existence in black&white photos or histrionic depictions recalling the rise of modern medicine. To think this is how the tradition of grand rounds proceeded in the not so distant past. Today grand rounds have a more tuitional flavour to them. The Socratic dialogue which reportedly took place has been superseded by the much less appetising PowerPoint presentation. It’s a weekly event marked in the calendar. For the ever-busy junior doctor it at least offers the prospect of a free lunch. I gest, they serve a social as well as an educational function.
On the other hand medical student grand rounds are purely a learning exercise. They are most importantly not a race to find and present the most ‘interesting’ case in the trust because this is usually interpretted as a vanishingly rare condition, which even your ejudicating consultant has never encountered in a lifetime of experience. It falls short of the primary aim: to learn about the patients who you will be seeing as a junior doctor and as the addage goes - common things are common. What will make your grand round interesting, is not the patient you choose but how you choose to present that patient.
Unfortunately, as fair a point Sir Osler makes, the old practice of patient participation in grand rounds has long since faded. You will have to call upon your thespian talents to retell the story to your fellow students. Of course not everyone’s a natural showman, however fortune favours the prepared and in my experience there are only a handful of things to worry about.
Structure. This is the back bone of your presentation. Obviously a solid introductory line about the patient with all the salient points goes without saying, it’s no different to presenting to the consultant on ward rounds or in the clinic. Always set the scene. If you clerked your patient on a hectic night oncall down in majors, then say so. It makes the case less one dimensional. The history is your chance to show off - to consider the presenting complaint expressed in the patient’s own words and to form a working differential, which you can encourage your colleagues to reel off at the outset. The quality of the history should guide your audience to the right diagnosis. Equip them with all the information they need, so not just the positive findings. Showing that you have ruled out important red flag symptoms or signs will illustrate good detective work on your part. However you wish to order the relevant past medical/family history, medications, social impact etc is up to you. It’s a subjective thing, you just have to play the game and cater to the consultant’s likes. You can only gage these after a few cases so do the honourable thing and let your colleagues present first.
Performance. Never read your slides in front of an audience. Their attention will rapidly wane (especially if they’re postprandial). The slides are an aide-memoire and to treat them as a script is to admit your presence adds nothing more to your presentation. Communicating with the audience requires you to present uncluttered slides, expanding on short headings and obliging your colleagues to listen for the little nuggets of clinical knowledge you have so generously lain in store.
Insight. When the consultant asks you the significance of an investigation, always know on what grounds it was ordered and the limitations of the results. The astute student will be aware of its diagnostic or prognostic potential.The same may be said of imaging. Perusing the radiologists report and using it to guide the audience through (anoynmised) CXRs, CTs, US etc is a feather in your cap. Literature reviews of your choosing constitute a mandatory part of the presentation. They are demonstrative of not only your wider reading but your initiative to find the relevant evidence base e.g. the research underlying the management plan of a condition or perhaps its future treatments.
Timing. Waffling is only detrimental to the performance. Rehearsing the presentation with a firm mate is a sure way to keep to time constraints.
Memorability, for the right reasons, relies on a concise and interactive presentation. A splash of imagination will not go unnoticed. The consultant marking you has seen it all before; surprising titbits of knowledge or amusing quirks in your presentation will hopefully appeal to their curious and humorous side. If anything it might break the tedium grand rounds are renown for. Oratory is a universal skill and is responsible for so much (undue) anxiety. The more timid can take comfort grand rounds aren’t quite the grand occasions they used to be.
Illustrator Edward Wong
This blog post is a reproduction of an article published in the Medical Student Newspaper, December 2013 issue.