Dr. Gregory House is a master diagnostician, a Sherlock Holmes-like doctor on the television show House M.D. who solves difficult cases with the barest of clues.
For the last five weeks our Middle School Eagles have embarked on a Medical Biology Quest, playing the part of Gregory House; learning the subtleties of diagnostic medicine, studying the various systems of the body: Respiratory; Circulatory; Digestive; Nervous; Endocrine; Skeletal-Muscular and more; all the while delving deeply into the latest medical research.
On Friday it was time for the Medical Biology Quest Exhibition, where invited guests became participants in a three act play addressing the question: “Who is the ultimate authority of a Hero’s health: you or your doctor?”
Act I: Research Funding Pitches: Each Eagle stepped into the shoes of a leading medical researcher, describing a devastating disease like Alzheimer’s and the latest scientific breakthroughs, all in an attempt to raise research funding.
Pitches were designed for a specific audience: National Institute of Health Director Francis Collins; Gates Foundation CEO Susan Hellman; Billionaire medical philanthropist John Huntsman or an individual investor participating through a crowd sourcing website.
Who would be the winner? The Eagle who captured the percentage of funding from its target audience, represented by parents and other exhibition visitors.
Act II: Bodily System Stories and Displays: Teams of four to five Eagles chose one of the human body systems and created a work of art (photos; videos or sculptures) to bolster an interactive story telling session designed to educate our guests about the function and care of that particular system.
Act III: Medical Diagnosis Challenge: The final challenge was our main event – teams of Eagle doctors charged with diagnosing patients – with the role of patients played by parents and Acton MBA students who had been armed with difficult cases, subtle symptoms and false clues.
For the last five weeks our middle school Eagles tackled the same interactive games, videos and real world simulations used by nurses, doctors and emergency room technicians. Tasks included honing observational skills; practicing patient-centered questioning; exploring common cognitive biases and interpreting blood tests; CAT scans; X-rays and a host of other diagnostic tools, as well as collaborating to convert patient stories and data into a differential diagnose.
The cases presented were perplexing: Did your patient have heartburn or was she moments away from death because of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism? Was stiffness in a shoulder a muscle strain or the beginning of septic arthritis? Did fever and stomach pain mean the flue, or the early stages of an Ebola-like disease?
Each minute of diagnosis cost $1000; each test cost between $150 and $1,500, with an additional charge for an expert interpretation . A correct diagnosis was worth $10,000; if your patient died, the hospital was charged $20,000 in additional insurance fees. So who could deliver the most effective health care for the lowest cost?
Our mock patients were magnificent; collapsing in pain; fainting and providing a myriad of subtle clues, some true; others leading to dead ends. The Eagles were up to the task, using well planned protocols and online symptom checkers to sort through aches, pains and test results and come up with the correct diagnosis. Then, without warning, the game became much harder.
The lights of the flickered and an announcement boomed over to PA system: The city has just been struck by a hurricane and our internet access has failed.” Now the Eagles had to rely on old fashioned logic. Most adjusted well.
A few minutes later, the PA system boomed again: “We’ve just received word of a major train wreck. Prepare for the Emergency Room to be swamped. You may no longer see patients one at a time but instead have no more than 30 seconds to triage every injured or ill person.“ Even the best teams were stretched to the limits of their ability.
Finally, it was time to bring the exhibition to an end. A satisfied but weary group of middle school Eagles gathered to share “lessons learned” and receive hard earned praise from our visitors. All in all a magnificent afternoon; enjoyed by every person in the studio.
Study Biology from a textbook? Not our style. So much more fun and a far more powerful learning experience when you apply 21st Century Skills to real world medical problems.
Our Eagles emerged with a deep appreciation for the skill and dedication of doctors and nurses, armed to become Heroes who are co-creators of a healthier future.
Perhaps a few will become doctors, nurses or medical researchers – all because of a few weeks of hard work, deep concentration and dedicated teamwork – and one fine afternoon of celebrating their new found learning and putting it to the test.