Leaders in Medical Education

Dr. Robert Tarzwell, One Minute Medical School

Osmosis Team
Aug 6, 2014

Dr. Robert Tarzwell is the founder of One Minute Medical School, a YouTube Medical Education channel that breaks down complex medical topics into sixty-second videos. The videos aim to provide reliable medical information to both medical students and the general public. Dr. Tarzwell is also a Clinical Assistant Professor on the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. Read more to find out what inspired him to start One Minute Medical School and how he hopes to impact medical education!

How did you decide on a career in medicine?

This was a career choice about 15 years in the making. It initially appealed to me as early as junior high school, and I had fully intended to go the traditional BSc to MD route, but of course, a funny thing happened on the road of life. One day in the midst of undergrad, I heard the call of the Air Force. I ended up spending 7 years in the RCAF, first on an operational tour doing antisubmarine warfare and then in Air Force Public Affairs, helping to establish a presence on the then new-fangled World Wide Web.

The dream was reawakened in me at my high school 10 year reunion which is a great place to reflect on where your life is vs where you thought it would be. I crash-crammed over the next 5 weeks for the MCAT, picked up a missing biochemistry course, and one year later found myself in Med 1 at the University of Manitoba.

What made you pick psychiatry as your specialty?

During our pre-clinical training, when we started the basic behavioural sciences, psychiatry and neurology blocks, I was mesmerized. My background had been in the humanities, English literature to be specific, where character and motivation are central concerns. There was something very satisfying about the notion of human behaviour itself also being tractable to scientific approaches. I've always had an interest in how various disciplines interact and inform one another at the boundaries, and psychiatry seemed very much at the interface of biology, psychology, and sociology, something which can be approached humanistically or pharmacologically. Eric Kandel's 1979 essay about the future of psychiatry, "Psychotherapy and the Single Synapse" is one of my favourite papers.

I am very interested in your role as founder of One Minute Medical School. How did you become interested in medical education?

I've found that the best way for me to learn something is by trying to explain it to someone else. I've also found that, at their core, most concepts in medicine can be explained quite elegantly with a very basic toolkit of physiological concepts, which are themselves quite intuitive. When I first saw the emerging wave of drawn animation-style science video like the excellent Minute Physics, it hit me like a thunderclap. So, I rigged up a basic stand for my iPhone, bought some markers and paper, and here we are.

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What is the most rewarding and/or exciting aspect of developing One Minute Medical School videos?

The most rewarding moment is flipping the switch to make the video go live and watching the view-count climb. It's really shocking how many hours go into that one minute you see on the screen. In my mind, once a video gets past about 600 views, then the public has invested as much time learning as I have creating. After that everything is a bonus. It's really satisfying to see the videos go on and on with lives of their own.

If you could change two or three things about how we train our physicians today, what would they be?

  1. More use of a Socratic style in teaching but without it descending into pimping, the terrible tradition of asking question after question until the student reaches their point of knowledge deficit, letting them squirm in front of their fellow students. I hated that as a student and work very hard to avoid as an attending. Ask questions, but also inject knowledge and ideas.

  2. Use students as teachers. I think we're getting better at this one, but we sometimes get lazy about it and don't know the material as well as we should.

  3. Play to a student's own strengths and interests. When I work with medical students and interns, I recognize not everyone is entering psychiatry. So, I try and find relevant examples of where psychiatry intersects with the student's own interest. Going into surgery? Ok, let's look at delirium. Going into radiology? Ok, let's look at some functional neuroimaging.