Purpose: Critical thinking and the ability to engage with others of differing views in a civil manner is essential to the practice of medicine. A new format for medical student education (“Argue-to-Learn”) that uses staged debates followed by small group discussions was introduced into the curriculum of first year medical school at the Penn State College of Medicine. The goal was to create a structured environment for spirited, civil discourse, and to encourage students to think critically about clinically controversial topics. This manuscript describes the development of the program, and presents comparative data on student perceptions of the first two mandatory sessions that focused on the treatment of post-menopausal osteoporosis and on COVID-19 vaccine mandates. Methods: Quantitative results were gathered from standardized post-block student surveys for each session and compared to cumulative results of all other courses included in the learning block. Post-block surveys of students include four sessionevaluation questions scored on a 5 point Likert scale. Scores were compared using Student’s t-test. Thematic analysis of qualitative data was performed on a single open-ended response from the same survey. Results: Compared to all other courses in the learning block, scores on each of the four questions were either the same or numerically higher for the Argue-to-Learn sessions, but none reached statistical significance. Two important qualitative themes were identified. First, students enjoyed the format, found it interesting and engaging and want more similar sessions. Second, students appreciated hearing opposing viewpoints and presenting their own viewpoints in a safe and supportive environment. Conclusion: These findings support evidence from educational scholarship outside of medicine showing argumentation as a learning tool is well received by students. Further work is needed to determine whether it improves critical thinking skills and enhances learning in medical education.
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