Neeral Shah, Associate Professor, Medicine: Gastroenterology and Hepatology
This interview was edited by Kimberley R. Barker, MLIS.
If you’re a member of UVA Health’s clinical team and have published a book or book chapter, Kimberley would appreciate the opportunity to interview you, as well as add your work to the Health Sciences Library’s UVA Health Authors Collection. Contact her via email at email@example.com!
In 2019, Neeral Shah, M.D., approached renowned publisher McGraw Hill with a novel premise for a book: infographics about medical education topics, geared towards students and residents. Intrigued, McGraw Hill greenlighted the project and, in December 2020, published the digital version of The Infographic Guide to Medicine.
Roughly two years later, in January 2022, McGraw-Hill published the paperback version to immediate acclaim: it was a number one bestseller on Amazon’s Diseases of Medicine at its time of release and is currently in both Amazon’s Top 100 Bestsellers in Diseases and its Top 200 Bestsellers in Internal Medicine.
Kimberley R. Barker, Librarian for Digital Life at the Health Sciences Library, recently interviewed Dr. Shah about the book and his plans for its future.
The Infographic Guide to Medicine is in our physical collection, if you’d like to check it out; the digital version is available at Access Medicine (free of charge to the UVA community).
KB: Why did you begin to believe that infographics were an important way to approach teaching and learning?
NS: About five years ago, I noticed that students were using many outside resources to help reinforce concepts as they studied material in the GI course I taught in the NxGen curriculum at the School of Medicine. I was looking for possible infographics that covered GI topics and was only able to find materials to help describe disease states for patients. As I looked into infographics, I learned how many fields were using this concept to distill complex topics into digestible graphical formats. At the same time, I was interested in the theory of cognitive load with respect to learning theories, and it seemed to reinforce the importance of helping reinforce complex topics through infographics.
KB: When did you begin incorporating infographics into your teaching?
NS: At that time, five years ago, I started thinking about using some graphical one-page documents to summarize a disease. I would print this one page document and use it as a foundation to frame my “chalk talks” for medical students and residents on the wards. Then the following summer I signed up to be a mentor for the MSSRP (medical student summer research program) and was paired with two incredible students (Joesph Mort and Joanna Odenthal). There were amazing and we created a set of infographics for the top ten luminal GI topics seen at UVA and top ten hepatology topics seen at UVA.
KB: What made you decide to write this book/what is the book's origin story?
NS: This MSSRP project took a mind of its own. We posted the first set of infographics on the UVA shared webpages. We installed a google analytics link on the page and were able to follow use and downloads of our infographics. I was hoping some of our medical students would use them to help study and organize their thoughts. Over the first year, I was shocked to see the number of users go up, and when I saw that people were downloading it at 27 different countries all over the world, I knew we had found something special to help students. I was introduced to a couple of editors from McGraw Hill and they saw these infographics and were immediately interested in talking more about them. Over the next year, we developed the concept for an online resource and then a print book to distribute these infographics.
KB: What about this topic was important enough to compel you to take on writing a book on top of your other work?
NS: This format of presenting material really resonated with me as a visual learner. I felt that others could also benefit from these infographics.
KB: What did you learn while you were writing it (whether about the topic itself or the process of writing/publishing?
NS: The process took a couple years as we decided to publish over 600 infographic cards. This was more than I had imagined. One of the biggest lessons I learned was that over a long period of time some people will have real life issues come up. Their circumstances will change, and they may not be able to follow through. Conversely, there are also a lot of people that I found super interested in this concept that were willing to do more than we asked. So, coordinating a huge group of associate editors and student contributors required a lot of organization to do it properly and finish the book.
KB: For those people who've not yet seen your book, what's the one thing that you would say to pique their interest?
NS: I think the way each disease or issue is simplified into a single page infographic card is interesting. We used context experts to make sure we included the highest yield material, but also had to be thoughtful of what that material is. The limit to one page was essential to be sure it was digestible by the learner.
KB: Is this your first book?
NS: In fellowship I had published a small handbook on GERD with an attending I met in fellowship. That was a question-and-answer book geared towards patients. This is my first book aimed to learners in the field of medicine.
KB: Will there be a second edition?
NS: I think medicine is constantly changing and we will have to keep the book up to date. Further, as much as we tried to avoid it, there is an opportunity to fix any spelling errors we find.
Students look at the Library’s copy of The Infographic Guide to Medicine.
KB: What was the most difficult thing about the entire writing/publication process?
NS: I think with authors and editors being busy, it was hard at times to get the material back in a timely manner. Everyone during COVID has taken on more duties at work or even at home. I was feeling bad pestering my editors and students for follow-up and deadlines because I know how hard everyone was already working.
KB: Would you do anything differently?
NS: I do not think I would. I had a great support team at McGraw Hill who helped me with every step of the way.
KB: Besides medical students, who else could benefit from this book?
NS: I think interns could benefit from this book. I also think advanced practice providers (APPs) could also benefit from this book.
KB: How will your book improve the teaching/learning process?
NS: I think as the reasons stated above, the reduction of cognitive load to learn concepts is really a new way of thinking about the learning from infographics.
KB: Do you anticipate that this is a book to which students will turn repeatedly?
NS: I do hope so, and it is also available online with an Access Medicine subscription.
KB: Your book is available both in-print and digitally; did knowing that it would be available in both formats affect the way that you organized or designed it?
NS: It did not change the way I organized it as each card is its own page in the book. I was thrilled that there was so much interest from our colleagues in Latin America, that we translated more than 600 cards into Spanish.
KB: What is the one thing that you hope readers take away from your book?
NS: I hope people learn the benefit of trying to use graphical formatted information in medicine. Also, I do hope this reduced cognitive load in learning carries with it a high retention rate of the material.
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