Group projects: Undergraduate’s nightmare, med student’s highlight

When a professor utters the words “group project,” there is a guttural groan from students. Undergraduate classes require them frequently, creating a dreaded tradition, but when asked about some of the better aspects of med school at Central Michigan University, first-year med students Trista Osantoski and David Hales agreed they enjoyed group work.

During a student’s undergraduate courses, there always seems to be that one person who does not show up to group meetings or will not contribute an equal amount of work. In the medical community, however, equal participation is normal.

“You actually have to take your group project seriously,” Osantoski said.

The inaugural class of 64 med students were split up into groups of eight upon entering CMed in the fall. That group gets their own study room and works together throughout projects, quizzes, and pre-class assignments.

“You get really close to your group of eight. You kind of figure out how everybody works,” Osantoski said. “I like being able to work with people and know how they think and how they’ll approach [the case] then see how that interacts with how you would approach it.”

Group work in med school is prevalent during their case-based learning. Like a case study the groups read through various symptoms of a theoretical patient and try to diagnose the patient properly. The group setting allows students to bounce ideas off each other.

“It gives you a break from the traditional classroom lecture,” Hales said. “It’s a little more relaxed so we can have fun with it, too.”

Med students also use their group for team-based learning, where they are quizzed on the materials they went over during the case-based learning. Even then, the groups are more focused on making the grade and putting in the effort to do well.

“If you don’t take things seriously and if you miss something, it can hurt your grade,” Hales said.

The decision to have students work in groups was based on research.

“There is significant literature that clearly shows that a group working together will almost always out-perform the work of independent individuals in the group,” Ed McKee, CMed professor and researcher, said.

The promotion of this work environment creates peer-to-peer interaction that stimulates conversation and critical thinking that would not necessarily happen with an individual working alone. These skills can then transfer to the real world where working together is vital for ultimate success.

“Health care delivery is a team activity and physicians now and in the future must be able to work in a team environment,” McKee said.