Tell your mum about it

BMJ 2009; 339 doi: (Published 15 July 2009) Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2367
  1. Maryam Alfa-Wali, clinical research fellow, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London
  1. fawalim{at}

    I was a third year medical student experiencing hands-on clinical medicine for the first time. I started my placement in a district general hospital with a teaching session by a consultant surgeon. He had a fantastic collection of clinical slides, and the ultimate challenge was to describe the signs on the images.

    Feeling daunted and not knowing where or how to start, I hesitated. The consultant said, “Describe it as you would be telling your mother about it on the phone.”

    I described exactly what I was seeing in simple terms, as if I was talking to my mother. With that, I started with descriptions of the basic lumps and bumps and thought to myself that it was not as bad as I had feared.

    Years passed, with several clinical exams and finals, and I religiously thought of describing lumps and bumps with the site, size, shape, etc. The day of the clinical part of my MRCS came, and the terminology for describing lumps and bumps escaped me with the adrenalin rush, but out of the sky fell the words, “Tell your mum about it,” and with that I was able to rattle off an accurate description and diagnosis of the lump I was asked to examine.

    Today, I use the “Tell your mum” technique to teach medical students and to explain things to patients sometimes, to remind me to avoid medical jargon and explain things simply.


    Cite this as: BMJ 2009;339:b2367

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