The Art of the Pimp

Traditionally the term 'pimp' has had a negative connotation. As a reference to someone who promotes and trades in indulgences of the flesh, the word was not used commonly in civilized society. These days the word is thrown about much more casually, partially due to the influence of hip-hop lyrics on modern culture. Often people can be referred to as 'pimps' even though they do not employ prostitutes. Even inanimate objects can be 'pimp' such as, "Your ride is pimp."

In medicine, 'pimping' has a whole different meaning. 'Pimp' is used to describe a more knowledgeable person questioning one with less experience to test that person's knowledge. It is traditionally used in sentences such as, "Dr. Stearns pimped me about the innervation of the hand yesterday," or "Are we going to be pimped on rounds?" It is even done on television; the show "Scrubs" commonly displays the chief of medicine, Dr. Kelso, pimping J.D. or Elliot.

In recent years, pimping has been frowned on by those in medical education. Asking spontaneous questions is said to be anxiety provoking for medical students. While the future doctors want to be sure they are learning what their professors think is important, many educators feel that pimping makes students construct negative associations with experiences such as rounds or small group learning. The pimped students are given the classic 'hero-goat' paradox. Answering the questions correctly causes the student to be considered a hero while an incorrect answer turns the student into a goat.

While causing anxiety and creating a 'toxic' environment is not beneficial to anyone, asking questions of medical students is very appropriate. Instructors need to be able to assess knowledge and acquisition of concepts. Asking questions provides feedback to both the instructor and the student. Professors need to know if their teaching style is working and giving the students the information they need in a suitable manner.

Medical students benefit greatly from pimping. They are bombarded with information and it is important to know what is the most relevant. In addition, pimping provides a sense of inadequacy and, thus, motivation like no other. The possibility of being the 'goat' gives students an impetus to study beyond formal tests or other types of evaluation. Students need to constantly be challenged, to feel that there is more to learn. In programs with little emphasis on academics such as HMS, this type of stimulus is necessary to prevent stagnation and a false sense of confidence, two characteristics found in some HMS students.

While not always referred to as pimping, asking questions in a sort of pop quiz format is a time-honored way of learning. It is very successful so long as it is given and received in the proper manner. Attendings and residents should feel free to pimp, just as long as they are not demeaning or insulting. Students should be excited about being pimped and receive the questioning and resulting feedback in a positive way. Pimping should be looked at as a mutually beneficial opportunity for learning and used whenever appropriate.

What happens if instructors do not pimp? Students lose out to the politically-correct pressures of society. The fact is that doctors may have to make decisions under circumstances of intense pressure and time constraint. The result of giving a wrong answer is not just being the 'goat,' but adversely affecting someone's life. Medical students need to get used to the fact that they are in positions of responsibility, of making life-death decisions, and of working under intense pressure. So get ready to pimp and be pimped.

Published 01.26.04
Today's Talks 05.03.04
Wednesday, May 5
"Cinco de Mayo BBQ Celebration!”
MeSLA, MGH Minority Affairs
Come grab some good food and enjoy the sunny weather as we celebrate Mexican culture and commemorate Mexico’s victory over the French army in 1862.
5:30 pm, Vanderbilt Hall Deanery
Free food.

“The Tormented President: Calvin Coolidge, Death, and Clinical Depression”
Countway Library
Lecture and booksigning by Robert Gilbert, author, Northeastern University.
4:00pm, 5th floor, Minot Room, Countway Library of Medicine

Thursday, May 6
"Public Policies for HIV/AIDS with Special Reference to China”
Asia Public Policy Workshop and WHR Rivers Symposium
Debrework Zewdie, World Bank; Jim Kim, WHO; Shen Jie, China Center for Disease Control and National Center for HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control; Anthony Saich, KSG.
6:00pm, Starr Auditorium, Belfer Building, KSG

Friday, May 7
“2nd Annual Symposium on Racial/ Ethnic Health Disparities Research in the U.S.: From Research to Practice”
Harvard Interfaculty Program
Faculty discus basic physiology, state-of-the-art treatments, research, and future directions.
Speakers: Reginald Stuart, HSPH; Suzette Oyeku, HSPH; Debra Joy Pérez, GSAS.
8:00am – 4:30pm. Room G-1, Kresge Building, HSPH
Register www.healthpolicy.harvard.edu/ disparity.php, under “Disparities Symposium 2004.” More information, email retucker@disparitiessymposium.com

Saturday, May 8 2004
"Collateral Benefits: Complex Health Interventions Among the Poor”
DRCLAS, Division of Social Medicine Health Inequalities, BWH
Paul Farmer, PIH; Fernet Léandre, Zanmi Lasante, Haiti; Askar Yedilbayev, PIH, Russia; Jaime Bayona, Socios en Salud, Peru; Anne Hasitings, Fonkoze, Haiti.
9:00am – 1:00pm, New Research Building, HMS

"Volunteer opportunity at The Food Project”
9:30 am-12:30pm, West Cottage lot in Roxbury
Transportation provided. Email Christine or Molly Perencevich. Limit 15 students. www.thefoodproject.org/

"2nd Year Show Videos"
Checks to “HMS/HSDM 2nd Year Show.”
Contact: Nancy Chang

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