This morning I had a pleasure of participating in a journal club meeting. The session reminded me of my first year as clinical instructor when I had to supervise a journal club meeting for medical students, but not because the two experiences are similar - they couldn't have been more different.

It was very difficult to get the students to talk, on the other hand it was very difficult for the Macyfolks to stop talking!

And I don't mean it in a bad way, the discussion was sparkling and engaging. When brilliant minds are put together, they are bound to bounce great ideas off of each other ad infinitum- and that is a very good thing.

Not so much for the faculty in the group though.

As a faculty I was tasked with making sure that the discussion was both lively and encompassing. The problem was, those two goals were pulling in two opposite directions. This is because lively discussions are bound to develop far beyond any kinds of initial plan, and most attempts to rein it in will likely kill it.

I am sure everyone of us have had a similar experience in our professional lives. I would like to discuss a little bit about my general approach here. I don't think it is foolproof by any means, but it has worked well for me so far.

Two words: nudge early.

By nudge I mean trying to steer the conversation without making a sudden change, for example by asking a question that is related to the current state of discussion and at the same time pulls it toward the target objective or concept. This has to be done gently so as to not kill the discussion, and you are your own master when it comes of judging what is and isn't gentle.

And doing this early is very important because a nudge is gentle, and thus may not move the discussion all that much. That is why you need to start early and put may have to put in a few nudges before the group adjusts course in the direction that you want.

A couple of common sentences that I use are "That point is very interesting. I wonder if there is a way to link it with [objective/concept]" and "I wonder if we can incorporate [objective/concept] into the things that we are talking about here." On the other hand, saying something along the lines of "That is good. But let us stop that and get back to this" is a huge no-no.

It is not 100% guaranteed to work, but it is still a a very useful tool to have in your arsenal. I strongly suggest you give it a try.

What are your techniques in handling a similar situation?


Atipong Pathanasethpong, MD, MS

Atipong Pathanasethpong, MD MMSc (MedEd) (Educators ’15, Leaders ‘15) is a graduate of the MMSc in Medical Education Program at Harvard Medical School. Atipong works as an anesthesiologist and medical educator at Faculty of Medicine, Khon Kaen University, Thailand. He is currently active in instructional design and in disseminating cognitive science concepts to his trainees and colleagues. You can reach Atipong via Twitter at @AtipongPath.