News / USA

Professor Unravels Mysteries of Medicine

In free lectures to the community, John Cohen strives to make technical language understandable

Professor John Cohen, who has received nearly 30 Excellence in Teaching Awards from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, is now sharing his knowledge with the wider community.
Professor John Cohen, who has received nearly 30 Excellence in Teaching Awards from the University of Colorado School of Medicine, is now sharing his knowledge with the wider community.

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +
Shelley Schlender

It’s been said that while everyone loves learning something new, people don’t always like being taught. A scientist from Colorado is working to change that.

Professor John Cohen still remembers his very first lecture, decades ago. "My slides didn’t work and I talked too fast and nobody knew what I was talking about and my knees were knocking. It was awful."

That’s not the case today. In 40 years as a professor of Immunology, Cohen has received nearly 30 Excellence in Teaching Awards from the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

"Dr. Cohen is incredibly enthusiastic in his lectures," says one of his students. "Very knowledgable."

"He’s one of the best lecturers I’ve ever heard," says another.

A third medical student agrees. "You just can’t help it to usually pay attention."

Cohen's approach is to not only help his students understand immunology, but also to allow them to enjoy learning about it. He thanks that first, awful lecture for his teaching success today.

"What I did figure out was, I’ve got two choices, like everyone else," he says. "I can go on saying, oh my God, that was awful, I’m going to do as little teaching as I possibly can because I’m no good, I hate it, and they hate me, or I’m going to become better at it."

Professor John Cohen, with guest lecturer Dan Bessesen, at a Mini Med School gathering to discuss the science of medicine with members of the community.
Professor John Cohen, with guest lecturer Dan Bessesen, at a Mini Med School gathering to discuss the science of medicine with members of the community.

Bringing high-tech science down to earth

He got so much better, that he took his lectures on the road.

In 1989, Cohen began a free series of lectures for the community about the science of medicine. The purpose of the lectures is to enlighten people by providing a scientific background that will improve their understanding of the human body and help them take charge of their health.

Cohen expected his Mini Med School to attract just a few science fans. However, more than 17,000 people have attended Mini Med over the past 20 years. It has inspired similar programs in more than 80 schools and hospitals around the world.  

Helen McFarlane, who manages Mini Med, says its down-to-earth explanations empower people to expect the same from their doctors. "If there’s something going on with your own health, You can say, wait, I don’t quite understand this. Explain to me what this words means, and then I’ll get through and understand what’s happening."

Cafe Scientifique

Cohen organizes another innovative teaching gig called Cafe Scientifique. Every month, it packs a Denver brewpub with more than 100 people, eager to hear a local scientist discuss cutting-edge research. Cohen is a big fan of the informal discussions about science, which began in 1998 in England. His Denver Cafe Sci is one of the longest-running and most popular in the U.S.

Presenters have included researchers, professors, clinicians and, recently, physiologist Inigo San Millan. "I have to say this is a new format for me. I feel like a little bit naked."

Cohen says most of the scientists and clinicians who speak at Cafe Sci find a receptive audience, and realize that giving a talk is not that scary.

"I have lots of clinical colleagues who take care of patients, and I’ve never heard any of them say to me, 'Oh, I’m a terrible doctor, I kill half of my patients.' Nobody says that, and nobody feels that. My research colleagues never say, 'Oh, I’m a terrible researcher. My experiments are stupid and half of them don’t work.' But it’s amazing how many people say, 'Oh, I’m a terrible teacher, I’d do anything to get out of it, and it’s a waste of time for me.'"

He believes the more someone gets into teaching, the more fun they have. "And you teach everybody. I go to a restaurant, I start to explain the biochemistry of the food to the waiter."

Now Cohen is developing a Cafe Pedagogique, where students and teachers, together, can brainstorm even better ways to teach.  It’s just another reason why the American Association for the Advancement of Science recently presented Cohen with its top award for Promoting Public Understanding of Science and Technology.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

46 people are confirmed dead, but some 250 remain trapped inside sunken ferry More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid