This week our first-year medical students have completed their physiology curriculum. Based at it is on rigorous quantitative analysis of biological function, physiology is the most difficult first-year course. Physiology, by definition, is a quantitative discipline in which the mathematical relationships between interacting biological variables are examined, both empirically and theoretically.
We have students who are all intellectually brilliant, but with a very wide range of disciplinary backgrounds, ranging from applied mathematics majors to history majors. As you can imagine, these students have greatly different abilities to deal with complicated mathematical formulae.
I take an intuitive and teleological approach to conveying physiological principles to my medical students. I explain to them that the vast majority of the mathematical formalisms of physiology are more or less complicated versions of Ohm’s law. And I ask them to imagine how they would design a system to perform the task at hand: keep cardiac output constant, keep the membrane potential constant, maintain body fluid and solute homeostasis, etc.
I derive a huge amount of pleasure seeing the transitions of my students’ faces from “HUH!?” to “AAAHH!!” And I hope that my efforts eventually lead to some sick patient who might have otherwise died surviving, because one of my students was excited and educated by my pedagogy.
(This post is based on this one I wrote previously at DrugMonkey. Yeah, I’m a lazy fuck.)