On the Wards: What to Know About Getting “Pimped” in Medical School
Last updated: September 2021
Clinical rotations are an exciting, if not slightly nerve-wracking, experience. After years spent learning in the classroom, you finally get to utilize your clinically relevant medical knowledge and expand it further.
In the clinical setting, there are naturally many new customs and processes that you must become used to. Of all of these, perhaps the most taxing for students is the teaching method known as pimping.
How about a quick mental warm-up before the wards? Join our team for a 30min online Clerkship Bootcamp!
Let’s take a look at what it means to be subjected to pimping (i.e., “getting pimped”) on the wards and the best ways to approach it when it inevitably happens to you.
What is pimping in medical school?
Pimping is the teaching method that involves attendings and residents asking students on-the-spot medical questions. It can take place at any time but commonly takes place while rounding the clinical wards, oftentimes in front of patients.
The origin of the term is not certain. Some students believe it comes from the German word pumpfrage, meaning “pump question,” symbolizing the often speedy cadence in which physicians pose their questions to student doctors.
Asking questions in this manner is part of the Socratic method of teaching. This is a style where “the master imparts no information, but asks a sequence of questions, through answering which the pupil eventually comes to the desired knowledge.”
Depending on the style (and temperament) of the teacher, this can present itself in two ways:
- Attendings and residents may ask students important and useful questions relating to the patient.
- They may hurl unanswerable questions at students that have no real relevance to the topic at hand.
For students subjected to the latter approach, “pimping” may feel more like the other common definition of the word: Put In My Place.
Is it effective?
From the perspective of student education and experience, there are both pros and cons to pimping as a teaching method. Again, your experience may vary depending on the style and mood of the doctor asking the questions.
- It can be a useful way for the attending or resident to find out what students do and don’t know. This information will guide further educational and teamwork opportunities.
- Students will be prepared for on-the-spot questioning in high-pressured situations as patients won’t hold back, either.
- Pimping gives students the opportunity to impress the teacher with their mastery of clinically relevant information.
- It can be very demoralizing for students when a lack of knowledge is brought to light in front of their peers and patients.
- Oftentimes, pimping creates an atmosphere where students are afraid to explore alternative answers to the question asked. They can also be unwilling to expand the discussion for fear of how that will be perceived.
- Pimping contributes to the stress and anxiety that leaves medical doctors and trainees feeling demotivated and undervalued.
How to prepare for pimping with AMBOSS
The first thing to remember is that it happens to everyone. If you get stumped on a question in front of your peers, please keep in mind that you are not alone. You are not the first person this has happened to, and you are by no means the last. In reality, it has probably happened to everyone who is watching it happen to you.
Next is a tip that is easy to overlook: Try to relax and accept the limitations of your current medical knowledge. If you don’t know the answer to the question, tell the questioner that you don’t have the answer, but you will look it up and learn it for next time. Then you can use the AMBOSS library to look up the answer and learn it. This demonstrates an open mind and dedication to lifelong learning, which are critical characteristics of an effective care provider. In case you only know part of the answer, share this. Then the teacher can get a sense of what you do know. Engaging the person questioning you in some way is much better than seeming disinterested.
This leads us to the final point: While the practice of pimping may seem unnecessarily stressful, other care providers must develop an understanding of your knowledge base. This way, they can determine the methods by which you can best contribute to effective patient care. So, instead of dreading the thought of getting pimped, try to think of it as a natural and necessary part of your teamwork and training. Understand that the teacher needs to gauge how much you know, and asking questions is the primary way of doing that.
To help you be prepared for your clinical rotations, we’ve created the AMBOSS Clerkship Survival Guides. Written by AMBOSS physicians and recent clerkship students, the guides will help you be prepared for the first day of every rotation, pre-round, take notes, present patients, and impress your attending. You can also dive into the top 10 topics for every rotation and study effectively for your NBME® Shelf exams.