Conceptual Understanding


Conceptual Understanding

This involves the grasping of a fundamental concept, or explanation about how or why a certain treatment, physiologic process or medical procedure works. Often it is difficult to memorise facts about a certain topic without first gaining a conceptual understanding of it. If you understand the concepts behind certain topics you will find it easier to memorise facts relating to it, and find that your answers will contain a greater degree of sophistication. Also you will find your interactions with patients more authoritative and informative if you actually understand the reasons behind the treatments you offer.

Again, unfortunately, in this exam, very few of texts individually cover a single topic well enough to impart full conceptual understanding as well as all of the required facts.

Because it is such a new and rapidly evolving field, one of the keys to gaining conceptual understanding on topics relating to Emergency Medicine is to broaden your sources of information. If the specific Emergency Medicine textbook you are reading is not enabling you to grasp the concept about how or why certain things are done, it is necessary to consult other sources of information. The following are different ways to broaden your scope of information and hopefully attain conceptual understanding of the topic you are studying:


Consult Other Texts

This may feel time consuming and can be frustrating if reading one or two other books does not help you achieve conceptual understanding, however the benefit in this approach lies in the fact that most of the time by consulting two or at most three books, you will find enough information to gain conceptual understanding, and at the same time will be broadening your knowledge base. Often focusing on a “specialty specific” text (for example Murray’s Toxicology or Conover’s ECG book) will help you with conceptual understanding. If this doesn’t work you can try the following resources:

Ask your study group:

Often discussing a concept or asking a colleague for their perspective will give you a better conceptual understanding than reading about it as it allows you to have an interactive discussion, and chances are your colleagues struggled with the concept as well and may have a well thought out answer for you.

Therapeutic Guidelines:

These are Australian clinical guidelines that not only provide a wealth of information, but often provide succinct summaries about how/why things are done certain ways or how/why certain conditions are treated. They are quick to access, easy to navigate and contain up to date, locally written information.


These audio sources regularly get to the core of various ED topics, and regularly ask “how & why” we do things certain ways and what the evidence behind it is. It is hard to search by topic, but by subscribing and listening to as many EMRAP’s as you can your conceptual understanding of many important ED topics will be cemented.


Often doing a simple Google search will lead you to a site that contains the information you are looking for. Often the information is more up to date than the textbooks, and sites such as Wikipedia often have very good summaries on various medical topics (although exercise some caution as these sites are not “fact checked”, hence they are good for broadening your understanding of certain topics, but should not be relied on for specific factual content)






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