Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Lifelong Learning: what does it mean to you?

I read a wonderful brief article today about lifelong learning in medicine, specifically in the field of pediatrics.  Our medical school adopted a competency-based curriculum many years ago, and one of the nine competencies is lifelong learning.  But what does this mean?
To me, it means that as physicians, we should never stop trying to learn.  Medicine is changing so rapidly, that the skill of how to learn is as important as the skill of knowing what to do for patients at any given time.  The skill of knowing how to get information is also an essential trait for physicians, and this has definitely changed from not too long ago.  When I did my residency training (1994-1998), we were expected to get “the textbook”, and read it [eventually].  Nowadays, there are way too many textbooks, in addition to online resources, journals, social media outlets and many other sources.
Some people believe that the knowledge stops once someone receives the medical degree.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Others believe that the knowledge is done after residency training.  This is also false, in my opinion.  This is why there really is a continuum between UME (undergraduate medical education, AKA “medical school”), GME (residency training) and CME (continuing medical education).  The same lifelong learning skills one learns in medical school apply 15 years after completing residency.
But how do we continue to learn?  What is the drive to help us learn?  Is it just knowing?  Is it the feeling of being able to answer questions?  Is it the effect on patient outcomes that drives us to always learn?  I am not sure that there is a correct answer to this for everyone; rather, each person has her/his own answer to these questions.
Whichever is your personal answer, please remember that the zest for more knowledge is a wonderful trait, and is essential for good doctoring in today's era of medicine.  It can make us reflect on how to improve the care we provide for our patients, and will ultimately make our patients better off.


  1. Alex, you're asking a very important question. I remember reading "How can physicians keep up-to-date?" by Laine and Weinberg ( many years ago; I wonder how it has changed over the years, with the massive expanse of digital resources (Haven't had time to re-read it!!)

  2. I feel like for most people, the fear of failure is what keeps them learning. It is part of why I love being at the academic center. I live in pathologic fear of looking stupid in front of the residents, so I make sure to stay on my game and keep looking things up and learning. That being said, I don't let on to the residents that I am afraid to fail because I feel that by being open about not being perfect or having all of the answers sets a learning environment where people can be up-front and honest about what they need to work on and are willing to take chances and expand that differential.

    I worry that if I was out in private practice, after I started hitting my groove 5-10 years post-residency, I might rest on my laurels and start coasting to retirement, getting worse and worse as time goes on....

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