4 Ways to Practice Lifelong Learning in Medicine

March 25, 2024
As a follow-up to my last post, How a Commitment to Lifelong Learning Will Make You a Better Physician, here are four ways to put lifelong learning into practice throughout your career as a physician.

As you reflect on your career and medical education/training, you may simply view it as a series of exams, interspersed with clinical care. When you think about it, you had college exams, then MCAT, shelf exams, Steps 1-3, in-training exams, and board-certification exams… and after 5,000 practice questions and $10,000 spent on test prep materials, you get to a point where the exams become few and far between.

The question quickly becomes, “What do I do now? Am I off the hook?”

If you haven’t realized it, medicine is an ever-changing field, and the pace of acceleration is quickening. If you throw in the towel now, and decide that you’ve learned enough, you’ll do yourself and your patients a great disservice.

You blink your eyes, a few years pass, and you’re still practicing medicine the same way you did upon finishing training. New graduates come to your group with new skills, utilizing new technologies, and a greater understanding of emerging research. You sat on your laurels, and have fallen behind.

But it doesn’t have to be this way, and the trajectory of your career depends on you and you alone. You must take responsibility for remaining at the forefront of the research. What options and resources exist for doing so?

Let’s have a look at some ways to stay on top of your training and make sure you’re providing the best care possible.

1. Journals

Start by going straight to the source. In order to “keep up” with the literature, you have to read the papers. 

I personally experienced a little bit of “literature burnout” upon completing my fellowship, and intended to take a small break from journal reading. This break lasted longer than it should have, and all of a sudden, I was a few years behind on the most updated guidelines. I did my patients a disservice by not practicing at the forefront of medical knowledge, utilizing old techniques and paradigms.

As I’ve made a recent push to read the journals more, my practice has elevated to the current (and ever-changing) standards. I’ve been able to give lectures to my group regarding some of these topics and lift up the knowledge of those around me.

2. Professional Society Membership

I was once far more cynical when it came to membership in professional societies. Ever since those college Greek letter honor societies wanted to extort a few hundred dollars out of me to belong to an exclusive and seemingly meaningless club, I’ve been wary about paying for memberships.

However, since joining the ASA, I’ve been able to connect with other anesthesiologists that are in circumstances similar to my own. 

I’ve learned about the lobbying efforts made by the society, and the government-imposed challenges that the specialty faced. Joining your specialty’s society will instantly plug you into a network of your fellow physicians, and give you numerous resources for medical knowledge, career growth, and mentorship. 

There were also a number of other benefits, not the least of which was access to unparalleled CME.

3. Continuing Medical Education

Completing CME is necessary to maintain your medical license. Since you have to do it anyway, you should make it worth your while and do CME that packs the most value, rather than that which can be completed most quickly. 

Some CME is a necessary and painful hoop to jump through. How many years do I need to be educated on the dangers and warning signs of child abuse? Why must I pay every year to be reminded that I’m a mandatory reporter?

On the other side of this, the CME that I’ve gained from my ASA membership has been fantastic and applicable. I’ve learned a lot about emerging evidence and changing practice patterns that are very different from the residency dogma of yesteryear. And at this point in your career, you might find it hard to sit down and read a textbook chapter—completing a portion of CME can be an easier pill to swallow.

4. Conferences

Thankfully, the COVID shutdown of large-scale meetings has come to an end, and we can once again congregate with colleagues from all over the country and world in a single locale. 

I recently attended a conference that was purely about the business aspect of my industry. I learned loads of concepts that were never explicitly taught to me, and wouldn’t be found in any anesthesia textbook. There were meetings on leadership, efficiency, maximizing OR throughput, negotiation, employing different practice models, etc. 

In attending, I learned how to take a greater role in my group, and approach business-related challenges we face from a more knowledgeable standpoint. Naturally, academic conferences will expose you to active and current research, in addition to getting access to the latest technologies and trends in your field.

In Summary

At this early phase of my career, I spend a fair amount of time in observation mode. I learn from mentors, and see physicians who have been at this for decades, and still fight to stay at the forefront of techniques and publications. They are the doctors I turn to for help—they’ve got a strong and well-developed skill set, superimposed on years and years of experience.

In the other direction, I see the colleague who looks at this as merely a job, and hasn’t picked up too much since graduating from residency 20 years ago. Slowly but surely, they’re being edged out to pushing propofol in the colonoscopy center, a position which in due time, will likely belong to a sedation nurse.

This is your career, your livelihood! And your patients are entrusting you to take state-of-the-art care of them. Do yourself and your patients a solid service by keeping up and providing the best care possible.

Looking for more (free!) professional practice articles? Check out these other posts on the Rosh Review blog:

Rosh Review is a board review company providing Qbanks that boost your confidence for your boards and beyond. Get started with a Rosh Review free trial to the Qbank of your choice (no credit card required!) and gain access to board-style practice questions, detailed explanations, beautiful medical images, and more.

By Brian Radvansky, MD

Comments (0)