Staring across the mock-Jeopardy stage at the “Whats New In Medicine” conference, third-year PNWU medical student Ashley Penington couldn’t help but to laugh. The event aimed to attract a variety of health care workers — including physicians, nurses, pharmacists and more — and as she assessed her competition, it was clear that those aspirations had become a reality.
From behind their makeshift-gameshow podiums, a collection of internal medicine residents and attending physicians confidently skimmed their notes, preparing for what felt like a warm-up match before their upcoming Jeopardy showing at the American College of Physicians conference later in the year. It would be years before Penington and her third-year classmates — Aaron Marble, Chad Sumulong, and Jeremy Wright — would amass the level of medical experience they were now matched up against. Defeat appeared imminent.
“We sort of had an idea that there was no way our mere three years of medical education could compare to resident and attending physicians,” explained Penington, “Being ‘just medical students,’ we really thought we didn’t have a chance, but we figured: why not take the challenge?”
As the Jeopardy questions filled the screen, however, their confidence levels began to rise.
“It basically felt like one long Dr. Elliott CIL (Clinical Integrated Learning),” explained Marble. Designed for students to practice diagnosis and self-assess knowledge of treatment options for various disorders, Dr. Elliot’s CIL’s were packed with challenging questions, which tested the clinical reasoning of PNWU students. By the end of the contest, the value of those lessons was clear.
With an improbably-comfortable lead heading into Final Jeopardy, the third-years decided to “go big or go home,” says Penington.
The last question presented a young female patient who presented with intermittent headaches, visual changes and papilledema with recent worsening of her symptoms. Was this a tension type headache, Penington wondered? Could it be a migraine, or could there be a neoplasm of some type? Intracranial hypertension? Obstructive hydrocephalus? In typical PNWU-student fashion, the team came together to review the information.
The patient was on Isotretinoin for acne, and a smile ran across the face of the underdog students. It seemed like a classic board style question — in fact, Penington was pretty sure she’d seen the exact one during her dedicated board studying. They knew the answer: the patient had idiopathic intracranial hypertension, also called pseudotumor cerebri, which was linked with her medication use from Vitamin A toxicity. They scribbled it down and waited for the famous Jeopardy theme to hit its final note, confident that they’d matched the medical acumen of their competing counterparts. In the end, that assumption proved incorrect. In reality, the three medical students were the only team to answer correctly.
“We were all generally surprised that we managed to win,” Penington explained. “Some of the residents and attending joked that they couldn’t believe that they lost to medical students.”
“You sort of go through your first two years of medical school wondering when the applicability of all your studying is going to come into play,” she continued Penington. “Then, all of a sudden, you start third-year and find small bits of gratification when you realize you know more than you might think. For many first-year medical students who are just starting out, or even second-years who cannot help but think about boards, keep up the hard work and dedication. Your hard work and effort will be worth it, and might show in subtle ways — like winning medical jeopardy at a conference!”