Perfect Practice Makes Perfect

By Rob Cooney 

In 1993, K. Anders Ericsson published his initial work on the concept of “deliberate practice” (Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993). The concepts illustrated in his manuscript would go on to achieve near legendary status after Malcolm Gladwell popularized the “10,000 hour rule” in his book Outliers.

In 2004, Ericsson brought the concepts to medical education in an article in Academic Medicine (Ericsson, 2004).  Since then, medical educators have been trying to determine how best to apply the principles of deliberate practice to the education of medical students, residents, and practicing physicians.

Numerous books and articles have been published in the past several years that explore the concepts behind K. Anders Eriksson’s research. While they mainly deal with sports, music, and business excellence, they still offer insights into how expertise is developed.  The following book, however, may just be the best choice for medical educators:

Practice Perfect (subtitled: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better)

Practice Perfect is a book that fills an important niche that I believe has been overlooked in the application of deliberate practice to education: its role in improving teaching methods. The authors explore the science behind the concept of “practice” and then delve into actual methods to apply to teaching.

The book is divided into sections, including:

  • Rethinking Practice
  • How to Practice
  • Using Modeling
  • Feedback
  • Culture of Practice
  • Post-practice: Making New Skills Stick

Each section contains several rules, complete with practice exercises (of course!) to reinforce learning, i.e. application of “deliberate practice.”  Within their 42 rules, you will find many applicable skills that you can apply, tomorrow, to your teaching. While the book is written for teachers outside of healthcare, i.e. primary, secondary, and college level; health professional educators can still benefit from the examples provided. This book belongs in your library.