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Writing clinical vignettes or case studies


Peter Devitt

Head, Professorial Surgical Unit
Royal Adelaide Hospital


Why write case studies? There are many motives. First, they are a relatively easy way of starting off on the building up of a Curriculum Vitae.* The clinician might have seen an interesting case which had an apparent point of interest or a learning issue that they felt would be of broader interest and worth publishing. A more stimulating reason for writing is the desire to encourage others to learn. Whilst learning is often done in a passive manner - by simply reading text - the process can be made more effective by actively asking the reader to make decisions. Computer-based material lends itself well to this approach.

A case study should take the user through the material in much the same way as a clinician would do in real life. This starts with the clinical encounter and moves through to making decisions about investigations, treatments and likely outcomes. The aim of any case study, when used as a teaching exercise, should be to:
  • identify the problem that needs to be addressed
  • get the user to make decisions and commit as they proceed through the case
  • ask the user to justify their decisions
  • provide feedback to the decisions made by the user
  • gradually unfold the story as the case proceeds
  • provide an overall commentary on the case study and its perceived importance and relevance
Whilst most of these clinical vignettes will be text-based, the overall educational value will be enhanced considerably through the inclusion of data in the form of laboratory results, clinical photographs and radiological images.

*The author's first publication is shown in the Reference list at the end of the Synopsis.

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