How to be the Star of Your PBL Small Group

You’ve just started medical school and your first PBL (Problem Based Learning) small group session. You are determined to amaze your preceptor with your amazing rhetoric and smarts. You want to be the shining group member that comes up with the correct answer to the case no one else could solve. You are going to impress and earn the respect of your peers with your awesome skills. If this is you, here are 5 easy steps to help you be the best group member you can be.

1. Listen

The first step is a simple one, listen to what others have to say. The point of having a small group is so you can be exposed to different ideas and opinions. Good group work requires discussion and listening is as important as speaking.

Being attentive will also make your meetings more efficient. If you hear things properly the first time, people will not have to repeat themselves and waste time. Your understanding of the case will be more comprehensive if you listen to everyone’s opinions.

2. Say only what is Necessary

Speak only when you have to, at all other times keep to yourself. Don’t interrupt when others are speaking. Wait your turn to speak. Simple manners adults often forget. Avoid engaging in small chit-chat that is out of context. Everyone’s time is valuable, so don’t waste theirs. If you can run an efficient meeting, your small group members will thank you for it.

When it is your turn to speak, limit yourself and say only what is needed. Don’t go on and on with information unrelated to the case. Don’t talk just to show off how much you know, cause your peers most likely know more than you and are irritated by your arrogance. Similarly, when there is an awkward silence in the discussion, and the group is stuck, take initiative to move the group in the right direction. Let your words be few and important.

3. Don’t Jump to Conclusions

Medical students have strong personalities and opinions. We like definitive answers and will quickly decide on what we think is right. However, jumping to conclusions poses a danger because it can get in the way of being objective and true learning. Many learning objectives will be missed if you keep downplaying details.

Similarly, when your peers propose far-out ideas, don’t be quick to dismiss them. They may have a valid point, and even if they don’t, you would have learned something. Doctors need to be able to come up with a good differential diagnosis, and that includes all plausible causes.

4. Be Understanding of Others

You will have members in your group that have strange personalities, quirky mannerisms and speech impediments. There will be things about them that annoy you. Accept them for who they are, and they will be more likely to accept you and what you say. Presenting in a group isn’t just about the accuracy of your facts and arguments.

The truth is, people will judge and evaluate your words along with your personality. How you act will influence how likely they are to listen to your findings. Group work requires teamwork. Treat others nice and they will be nice to you too.

People don’t care how much you know–until they know how much you care

5. Have Input from Everyone

The point of group work is so everyone can benefit and learn from each other. You can cover the material faster, more in depth and with more clarity if done properly. Furthermore, splitting up the research needed to be done can save you a lot of time too. Don’t try to steal the show by taking over the discussion. Make sure everyone is heard. Their differing opinions and perspectives will enrich your learning.

The secret to being the star of your PBL / small group is to not treat yourself like one. Be humble, eager to listen and slow to speak. As long as you remember that it’s not about you but a group effort, the better a group member you will be.

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