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PBL 101: from Mouse to Megaphone

By Patty Lapitan

When I was in year 12 researching different universities, I never considered Manchester as an option because I heard it was so PBL-focused. My first impression of PBL was that it seemed quite disorganised and there was a lot of uncertainty to it. Throughout that year, I grew to become very interested in the clinical focus of the Manchester course and it went from being my last choice university to my first. Everybody tells you to play to your strengths when it comes to applying to Medicine, so rationally I did just the opposite! PBL has a big focus on group discussion and building a good clinician, rather than just a good academic. As someone who grew up as the quiet kid in class, the social aspect of Medicine was the one thing that deterred me from pursuing a career in Medicine. My expectations for PBL were that it would be challenging and it would push me very far out of my comfort zone, so I made the University of Manchester my firm choice for that reason.

I had hoped PBL would help me build on my weaknesses and develop my strengths even more. I remember the first few sessions of PBL and the immense feeling of intimidation sitting around a big table, listening to all the great contributions my peers had to the discussion. For those few sessions I was silent; a combination of fear and cluelessness as to what they were actually talking about stunned me. Throughout the first semester, I made it a goal to try and contribute more every week because as the saying goes, you have to ‘fake it ‘till you make it’. I wouldn’t say I’ve ‘made it’ just quite yet, but I’m definitely getting there. I have been Chair for 3 cases so far and Scribe for 2. Each time I have not only grown more confident in leading and contributing to the group, but I have really enjoyed learning in this way. I find PBL discussions such a great way to engage with the science we are learning and able to picture it in a clinical context, in a way you simply couldn’t with a traditional lecture-based course. In a way, it makes you feel like you’re already a doctor solving these clinical problems. Having this in the back of my mind has kept me motivated to study and excited for what is to come.

Everyone has a different perspective on PBL, and I know a lot of people find it pointless. Don’t get me wrong, PBL has its downsides. I was quite stressed throughout Semester 1 as I found it so difficult to adjust to. Despite this, it has taught me a lot, and it has pushed me to be a better student, future clinician and overall a more confident person. I went from saying 3 words in PBL to becoming one of those people that used to intimidate me. PBL can be quite a game-changer when you really make the most of it. After all, “You have to learn the rules of the game. Then you can play better than everybody else.”

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