Imitation: not just for vanilla

October 17, 2011 —

My first bike was pink with a cute basket, a loud bell, streamers coming off the handles, and of course nice big training wheels. Learning to ride a bike is a milestone that comes with many cuts and scrapes. You have to fall in order to learn how far to lean when making a turn. You fall in order to learn how to stop correctly. Your parents or older siblings might show you how and then you might try to imitate them. After time, you get pretty good at. You get your training wheels off and can ride without having a massive stock of Neosporin and Band-Aids handy. Some people may never ride a bike again after the age of 10. Some people will find that they are really good at bike riding and will go on to do BMX biking and do all those crazy tricks that ensure the ER staff will always have jobs. I like to think that those people started their careers by falling off pink training-wheel bikes as well.

In Physical Diagnosis class we have to learn not only the difference between a McMurray’s, McBurney’s and a Murphy’s, but how to properly test them. It’s usually in a high-stress situation that the school fondly calls Standardized Performance Assessment Lab, or SPALs. In SPAL we go through the tests we learn during class with a “patient” and a faculty in the room grading us. The faculty member looks at our finger placement, how we handle the equipment and how we interact with the “patient.” The SPAL patient is a very nice community member who doesn’t mind a bunch of inexperienced students poking them, sticking things in their ears, and trying to perform other uncomfortable diagnostic tests. We learn these tests by watching a video circa 1980s and then try to imitate what we see on the screen on each other during Physical Diagnosis lab.

Lucky for us, we are also taught by excellent faculty members. They show us different ways of doing tests and what works for them. Some of my classmates seem to really get a grasp on the different tests. Some were really good at the eye exams and others were really good at the orthopedics exams. Some were good at everything. The more I watched them and imitated them, the more I was able to correctly perform the test (or correctly enough for the SPAL).

We just finished our Physical Diagnosis class and I can now add about 100 pages to my book of tests that I know how to perform (depending on how big your font is). It did not come overnight. I had to fall. Watch my classmates. Get a big cut. Watch my teachers. Get a Band-Aid for my boo-boo and watch my classmates again. Now I think I can take the training wheels off, but I think I’m going to keep the pink basket and bell for now.

Also, I think it is fine to try to imitate someone else to learn how to do a new task. They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery; however, I don’t think you should force someone to imitate you (cough, cough, Mom).