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The small group environment enables us to assess complex patient cases.

First Year Student Blog: Nathan McCloskey

Cardiology has been one of the most challenging and rewarding clinical units we have covered thus far in our didactic coursework. The complexity of cardiology makes it easy to feel overwhelmed in the nuances of the diagnoses and management of the many diseases of the heart. Thankfully, at the end of each clinical unit the Duke Physician Assistant Program incorporates common problem lab sessions to synthesize and reflect the material we learn in the classroom into clinical cases.

Common problem labs (CPLs) are unique opportunities to divide into small groups and discuss patient scenarios pertaining to a specific clinical unit. Each CPL is aptly scheduled near the end of a clinical unit just before an exam, giving students enough time to prepare for the CPL and the exam that will soon follow. CPLs are designed to not only clarify information, but also to give us an opportunity to view it through the lens of a clinician.

Each small group is led by an experienced faculty member or practicing clinician. These facilitators are invaluable resources to us as students. They not only assist us in understanding each subject, but they also offer clinical pearls that will carry over into our own practice as physician assistants.

CPLs have been an extremely helpful tool when trying to digest the large amount of information that is presented during lectures. They have been especially useful for me during the cardiology unit when a set of symptoms could indicate many different diagnoses. The small group environment enables us to assess complex patient cases to prioritize differential diagnoses, determine necessary lab work and develop potential treatment plans. Utilizing the unique backgrounds of my group members and the wealth of experience from our expert clinician, I was able to feel comfortable with the material and excited to continue to learn cardiology throughout my career.

The thoughtfulness behind every portion of our education further solidifies my gratefulness to be a part of the Duke Physician Assistant Program. There is intention to every part of our curriculum, all with the purpose to benefit us as students and health care providers. CPLs are a clear example of the faculty and staff’s dedication to our education. By transitioning our knowledge from the classroom into clinical cases we are given opportunities to fully understand the subject matter and are enabled to confidently step into our roles as physician assistants.