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Keys to a Successful Presentation

Ben_3Ben Bryner -- One of the most important skills you develop as a third-year medical student is presenting a patient. After interviewing and examining a patient, you’re expected to summarize or “present” your findings in a systematic way to your supervisor. You’ll do this thousands of times -- presenting to your attending after seeing a patient in clinic, to a resident after seeing a patient in the ER, etc. The presentation takes on the most importance, though, when you present a newly-admitted patient to your team on inpatient rounds. In that setting the presentation is not just a formal opportunity for the team to get on the same page about the care of a patient, but is usually the basis for a teaching opportunity.

A good guide to inpatient presentations can be found on http://www4.umdnj.edu/camlbweb/patient/presentation.html this site, and a guide specifically for presenting a patient in the ER can be found http://www.saem.org/inform/patient.pdf here; you’ll probably get specific instructions from your attendings and residents as well.

Here are my own suggestions. This isn’t a comprehensive guide, just a few lessons I’ve learned -- some of them the hard way:

1. Always present things in the right order. Your presentation is like a five-course meal: Your attending is expecting all the dishes to come out in the right order, and won’t appreciate it if you bring out the main course (the assessment and plan) before the soup (the past medical history). No tip for you!

2. Especially at first, the presentation should be practiced. This isn’t improv night, where you can get up on stage without an idea of what you’re going to say. Since you’ll be evaluated on your presentations, it’s worth putting some time into them. Usually it will be hard to find someone else to practice the presentation with, since everyone is running around before rounds trying to get ready themselves. However, you can usually sit down somewhere quiet and run through the things you’re going to say.

3. Be prepared for interruptions. You’ll often be asked for information out of order; answer the question and then jump back to the point where you were when interrupted (i.e. don’t skip anything just because you were interrupted).

4. Try to stay upbeat and engaging. This is not easy when you’re presenting someone post-call. But presentations are easy to tune out, so avoid delivering it in a monotone.

5. Look at your audience (the team), not a piece of paper. As you’re practicing the presentation in your mind, write down a few key points that you don’t want to forget, and use those as your reference for the presentation. Don’t use your notes from the interview, or your history-and-physical form to deliver your presentation, because you’ll find yourself reading directly off them. (Using one of those to read off lab values or specific quotes from a radiology report is fine, though.) Some attendings value a paper-free presentation more than others; but it’s always more interesting and easier to listen to a mostly-memorized presentation, so work towards that point.

6. Don’t get discouraged. Experienced residents make presentations look easy, but it’s something that takes a lot of practice. When people interrupt, ask you to repeat something, ask you do say something differently, ask you to speed up or slow down, don’t take it as criticism. People have definite preferences on how they like to hear presentations, so adapt to them and change it again on the next rotation as needed. Relax and just pretend you’re telling a story to a friend (but don’t use the word “like” all the time). My point here is that the more relaxed you are, the better your presentation will be.

January 14, 2008 in Ben Bryner | Permalink


Thanks, Ben! Indeed, mastering this part of clinical practice is of utmost importance. Very well done. :)

Posted by: Ted | Jan 17, 2008 10:48:29 AM

Thanks for these tips, Ben. The presentation is what gives me the most difficulty on the wards.

Posted by: Thomas | Jan 20, 2008 9:37:38 PM

hi u r telling very good tips for a very good presentation thank u buddy.

Posted by: dr rajneesh garg | Jan 23, 2008 12:38:31 PM

Thanks for the tips....it will definately make me more confident in rounds ...

Posted by: Dr deepika | Jan 23, 2008 11:48:56 PM

Or you could use an earprompter, the actor's secret, and give your presentation word for word without memorizing or notes, and with very little prep time.

Posted by: Brian Collins | Jan 24, 2008 12:50:40 AM

ya!!these are good tips but presentation will be better with practice!!!! try to get more chances to present in front of your lecturers...never give up when being critized...and remember not to make the same mistake in the coming presentation..

Posted by: Rachel | Jan 24, 2008 2:30:46 AM

Continued after HOw to present a case:
Also make sure that you have gone through what investigations you would do. It is always good practice I think, to have a look in the patients' notes. There are so many important things that I still miss even in fourth year. Plus, you will look so much better if you can differentiate between the relevant positive and negative findings in the results. Just say the results havents arrived yet if they really havent (never lie). And if they havent, you can probably say which investigations are you hoping to find abnormal and why. Oxford handbook will be your soul mate for this!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

Posted by: derick manthiri | Jan 24, 2008 3:17:30 PM

Execelent! the web information came in handy. Hopefully ill master the presentation format and move on with the rest of the work.

Posted by: Samuel | Jan 27, 2008 9:49:17 PM

thanks Ben.. your tips helps alot.

Posted by: nessrein | Jan 28, 2008 1:54:28 AM

thank you for your suggestions.it seems useful for me. I will bear in mind.^^

Posted by: min | Jan 28, 2008 7:23:31 AM

Thank u very much. Very nice tips: helpful and i'll try my best to follow them.tc

Posted by: KJ | Feb 17, 2008 7:09:22 AM

Thanks very much for your recommendations.It was helpful.

Posted by: roya | Feb 18, 2008 8:56:59 AM

I wish I read this article sooner. I just finished my clinical presentation and it did not go that well :-(

Posted by: Dalila Hassan | Mar 24, 2008 11:36:32 AM

Thanks Ben! Im just 3 weeks into clerkship and hate presenting as i feel mine is all over the place compared to the residents! Now, I dont feel so bad!

Posted by: Tiq | Apr 30, 2008 7:18:26 PM

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