EVMS Physiology sign now

The purpose of this petition is for the medical students to address concerns regarding physiology, specifically the way we are tested. We think that both the format and the content of the physiology exams have strayed from their originally intended functions, and should be reconstructed. These issues, while significant in their own right, are compounded by the somewhat cumbersome syllabus and lecture format. While we understand that overhauling an entire class is a large thing to ask, especially in the shadow of renovations, we also feel very strongly that the tests need to be changed in fundamental ways. Please appreciate that we are not trying to make the class easier, or trying to receive higher grades. We simply desire a physiology class that is up to par with the rest of EVMS.

In order to understand what has happened and how we can fix it, we first need to understand how we have gotten to where we are today. At least ten years ago, (though it could be closer to 15), the physiology department came up with a conserved bank of questions for every subject test. The final was simply a mixture of questions from each section. Every year since then, a percent of those questions has been randomly selected from the banks and compiled into those years tests. As the tests themselves are accessible to us, each year they were tweaked slightly from their original form to prevent students from simply memorizing identical exams. We still use those banks today. Over the years, the constant reformatting of the same test questions has caused three things to happen.

First, the wording of the questions has become convoluted. Looking back at the old tests, one can easily see how once solid questions have become altered. Like a game of telephone, it has become progressively more difficult to understand their intended meaning. What was originally a simple true false test, as it was in 1994, switched to a true false/multiple choice hybrid (ex: which of the following choices are true), and is now in its current iteration (ex: All of the following are false except with the correct answer C: X doesnt happen). As it stands, students who know physiology are doing poorly because they simply cant understand whats being asked. We feel that a switch to more board style questions would make the exam scores more indicative of ones knowledge base.

Second, the content of the questions do not test on important topics in medical physiology. Instead of questions that test the knowledge of the human body in a clinically relevant way, we are asked obscure, often esoteric details. Because of the age of the test bank, some questions even reference outdated knowledge. We feel that the content of the questions should focus on the structure and function of the human body, with an emphasis on clinically relevant material.

Third, the material stressed in lecture has strayed from what is being tested. This is the most pressing issue. Classically, students are given a syllabus (physiology boasts the largest, at over 1400 pages) and verbal lectures to supplement their studying. We learn whats most important in the syllabus by attending lecture, and study accordingly. Then, come exam time, the questions likewise reflect the high yield material; material that was often repeated or stressed in lecture due to its importance. The students who honor are the ones went above and beyond in their studying, learning not only the important material that the professor taught, but also additional information from the syllabus. This system works because the important material is lectured, taught, and tested, giving the students clear learning objectives.

Physiology does not follow this pattern. Important material is taught, but for the most part not tested. Most questions come from a single line of text amongst hundreds of pages. This is compounded during the final, which covers the entire 1400+ page syllabus. The content of the questions are glossed over in lecture, and are often not mentioned at all. Since the material tested is not the material covered in lecture, students have stopped attending class. The average attendance for any given physiology lecture is in the 30s, much lower than that for any other class. We feel that the tests should cover important information, information covered in class because of its significance.

The issues mentioned above are mirrored in the way the medical students study for physiology tests. The way the questions are worded combined with their specificity make studying from the syllabus a recipe for disaster. The syllabus itself is far too cumbersome a document to read for understanding, and is rife with typographical errors and formatting issues. What students do is pore over old tests, some studying them exclusively. If the properties of snake vs. bee venom were asked in questions in previous years, or the specific uses of medical cocaine, or the second to least common form of carbon dioxide in the blood, we learn them. Especially for the final exam, studying the old tests is the only reasonable option, and is done to the exclusion of learning real physiology.

We are proposing a few solutions to improve upon the current paradigm. These are just a handful of possibilities; a meeting between the faculty, administration, and curriculum committee is bound to come up with others.

1) One solution is to simply rewrite the test questions entirely to be more relevant and easier to understand. This can be accomplished by forming a joint student/faculty committee to determine what topics are important and write out appropriate questions. This solution can even be done over the summer.

2) We could require each student to write up a handful of practice questions for the exam and submit them a few days beforehand to the class and professors. Any questions the professors like would be added to the exam (10-20\%), and submitting the questions themselves would be worth a few percentage points. This was done this year in neuroscience, and worked out quite well. The professor wouldnt even have to handle sorting the questions directly. Just as medical masters who pass out of histology aid Dr. Scoville in the lab as TAs, medical masters who pass out of physiology could be instructed with the responsibility to organize the tests.

3) If the physiology department prefers to keep the current test questions, we can go through them and supplement/eliminate as needed. The remaining questions would simply be cleaned up. There are groups of students more than willing to donate their time in support of this endeavor

We hope that something is done soon, whether it is one of the above options or something else. Students have wanted physiology to improve for years, but little is happening. The sad truth is that we are losing school prestige because of physiology. We are also losing students. Of the medical master class of 2009, several of the students who were accepted but didnt attend cited physiology as a large reason for going elsewhere.

There is one final point. While the students are frustrated by physiology, credit should be given where credit is due. The renal, endocrine, and reproduction sections are relatively strong. We find the questions fair and the lectures meaningful. In addition, Dr. Meyer told us at the beginning of the year that the physiology department would try to generate more board style questions, and we have noticed a few improvements to the question quality from previous years. For that we thank him. It is encouraging to know that the physiology department understands there are issues and is willing to work to fix them. We want to help.

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