Ross University Blog

VIEWPOINT: Why Some Students Say They Don't Want to Read Textbooks

December 01, 2015

Iriana Hammell named assistant dean for clinical sciences
Iriana Hammel, MD, FACP, AGSF, assistant dean for clinical sciences

This blog post was written by Iriana Hammel, MD, FACP, AGSF, assistant dean for clinical sciences at Ross University School of Medicine (RUSM).

More and more frequently, students send me email messages complaining about the fact that they have been given reading assignments. Many of them are cringing at the thought of picking up an actual book and reading the required pages, and they are even resistant to the idea of reading the same chapter in an online format. Why bother, they say, when it is much easier to do a search of Up-to-date or read the topic in the Wikipedia page that pops up in a quick search on their iPhone®? Can’t we just give them handouts with short bullet points?

In an era of incredible expansion of readily available internet resources that are at your fingertips, should we still be asking our students to read actual chapters of textbooks? What happened to the independent study that the adult learner used to have to do in order to navigate through the years of undergraduate education? Are the books that we, the older generations of physicians, used to study from now relics that belong in a museum?

I don’t think it’s time for that yet. Those textbooks give us a point of reference that cannot be found in the same measure in the multitude of online sources out there. Our students are not at a stage in their training where they can make informed decisions about which sources are to be trusted and which ones are not. Whether students tell you they extracted an inaccurate piece of information from Dr. Jones’s PowerPoint® presentation or from an obscure internet source, I suspect your answer will be, “Did you read the chapter in Harrison about this condition?” That is because Harrison/ Nelson/Sloane/ Beckman (or whichever the leading textbook in your specialty may be) is the trusted source you have been depending on since you started medical school and that you have continued to rely on and refer students to since you have been an educator. This is because the content is not only very comprehensive, but is, most importantly, reliable.

As physicians and educators, we still see the value of training young minds with the help of our most trusted resources in medicine. We think that the best way to learn is to dive deeply into the topic and read until you understand it, rather than memorize bullet points about it. It is good for students to read a few pages about congestive heart failure (CHF) in the evening, after seeing a patient with CHF in the hospital that morning. It is also critical for students to have read and learned something about CHF before encountering the patient.

“If I skip the reading assignments, is it still possible for me to pass the rotation?” a student asked me recently. The student said that, “It’s hard to read the textbook. It’s so dry, and unrelated.” I am sympathetic but unmoved. My reply to this student was, “Even though I agree that it is ideal to learn the information after seeing a patient with a certain condition, we need to ensure that you have a solid knowledge base going into your core clerkships. The only way to attain a broad base of knowledge is by reading extensively. I can see your point of view, but you will not be able to pass the rotation without completing the reading assignments.”

We need to bring back the passion for reading and learning that motivated us to read and learn, to become the best physicians that we could be and to better help our patients.

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Tags: Leadership , Academics

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