Today’s growing body of medical knowledge outpaces even the best students’ ability to retain and memorize information. According to one estimate, the entire body of medical knowledge doubles every three or four years (Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 2011;122).
“Traditional methods of early medical education may no longer be relevant in the current day,” said Sonya Malekzadeh, MD, FACS, professor of otolaryngology and residency program director at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC. “However, all medical students should possess a common baseline and standardized body of knowledge. Understanding anatomy, physiology, and pathology serves as a foundation for subsequent applications of this knowledge to specialized treatments and clinical outcomes.”
“There are certain things physicians should commit to memory, while other things they should be able to figure out by thinking,” said Kevin Fung, MD, associate professor in the department of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Western University in London, Ontario, Canada. “Patients present with problems, and our job is to solve their problems. Physicians also need training in other fundamental skills, such as communication, collaboration, team functioning, leadership, interprofessionalism, patient advocacy, health promotion, and critical appraisal.”
In looking at today’s educational programs, Janis Orlowski, MD, MACP, chief healthcare officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges, said that most medical schools and residency programs no longer require much memorization. “Education is more focused on how a physician can use information for problem-based learning. For instance, while physicians shouldn’t have to memorize the entire Kreb’s cycle, they should understand the basic functioning of a cell. Physicians can always look up something in question,” she said.
That’s indeed the preference for today’s young physicians and medical students, who seek out information in blogs, Wikipedia, Twitter, and Facebook. “Unfortunately, the veracity of this information and the credibility of these sources is often unchecked,” said Jesus Medina, MD, FACS, an otolaryngologist at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City. “As educators, we need to direct students and trainees to credible sources of information in these media. If such sources do not exist, academicians and professional organizations should create them.”
For example, the American Head and Neck Society (AHNS) has formed the AHNS Journal Club, a committee that reviews the leading head and neck cancer-related journals and shares the most significant ones with the membership at large, via email. Dr. Medina says that the club’s format compels residents to assess reviewed articles based on their scientific merit and relevance. “Doing this month after month gives them a solid base to assess the validity of information,” he said.