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HealthAugust 19, 2021

Design thinking in medical school: Teaching students to think creatively

Critical thinking is a key skill developed during medical school that impacts how a student performs in practice. One medical school is teaching this skill in a unique way – through design thinking. 

The Health Design Lab at Thomas Jefferson University teaches students to think like designers or architects and take a creative, human-centered approach to solving problems in healthcare. “Design thinking encourages an open-minded and open-ended exploration, and not just a straight path from problem to solution,” according to Morgan Hutchinson, MD, Director of Education for the Health Design Lab at Thomas Jefferson University. To teach students design thinking, Dr. Hutchinson uses three phases: observation, imagination and idea generation, and creation of a solution.

In an episode of the Wolters Kluwer Expert Insights Webinar Series, Vikram Savkar, Vice President and General Manager, Medicine Segment of Health Learning, Research & Practice at Wolters Kluwer, spoke with Dr. Hutchinson, who also serves as Assistant Medical Director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital, and three of her students about how they are implementing design thinking in the classroom.

Design thinking encourages an open-minded and open-ended exploration, and not just a straight path from problem to solution
Morgan Hutchinson, MD

Problem solving builds empathy and connects students with patients in a new way

Dr. Hutchinson’s students shared that they were partly drawn to the medical field because of the clinician-patient relationship. During the pandemic, students did not have the opportunity to experience that relationship nor did they have a chance to connect with their peers without using a screen. Through design thinking, they were able to connect with patients in a way that wouldn’t have in a traditional clinical setting. The students had the opportunity to think like patients in order to identify a problem in health care delivery during the pandemic and then develop a solution.

“Empathy is a core principle of health design thinking – it is the ability to share in the experience of another human to design healthier communities,” Dr. Hutchinson said and added that co-design and collaborating with end users to solve the problems affecting them is an essential piece of design thinking. When using the design thinking process, students will engage with various stakeholders to understand different viewpoints of the problem they are solving for and to narrow in on the specific persona for whom they want to design the solution. Dr. Hutchinson’s students shared that the opportunity to collaborate with the patient community to assess their needs has helped them develop an empathetic approach to problem solving and critical thinking. 

Design thinking helps students develop clinical decision-making skills

During a year of remote learning, design thinking provided a way for students to apply their critical thinking skills to solve patient-related problems. “It’s important to develop those skills that we already use as doctors all of the time – gathering information, gaining empathy, understanding problems and thinking about how a patient will solve those problems,” said Dr. Hutchinson.

Design thinking can help students learn how to work with patients when making important care decisions. For example, design thinking can help students in their approach to choosing which prescription to give a patient by thinking about the individual patient and what treatment will work for them instead of what is the best medication for the condition, said Dr. Hutchinson. The three students shared that the design thinking course provided a unique opportunity to apply what they’ve learned through the mindset of a patient and to practice teamwork, listening to others’ ideas and viewpoints, and giving constructive feedback. 

Learn more in the full webinar recording “Implementing Design Thinking in Medical School to Develop Creative Problem Solvers.”

Access the Webinar Recording
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