HealthFebruary 07, 2020

6 ways physicians benefit from continuous learning

By: Heidi Moawad, MD

Throughout your career as a physician, you will have countless opportunities for continuous learning, from fascinating conferences in fun destinations to new studies in specialty publications.

Here are six reasons to take every chance you can get to learn something new about your profession.

1. Stay in the know on healthcare

You can use educational courses to stay in the loop when it comes to emerging medical problems. For example, you may be faced with the challenge of caring for patients who are suffering from an infectious outbreak that was barely mentioned during your medical school and residency years.

Timely courses can help clinicians adapt to the shifting needs of the patient population. For example, an article in the Journal of Public Health Policy suggests that mental health professionals should be given suicide prevention training, a skill that wasn’t necessarily emphasized in the past. In this case, knowledge and techniques for identifying patient risk are improving as the importance of recognizing the issue becomes better acknowledged.

2. Prepare yourself for new challenges

You can use educational programs to dive deeper into areas of medicine you want to explore—even if they aren’t necessarily new. For example, if you want to travel for medical missions work, you can take a few courses to familiarize yourself with illnesses or procedures that you don’t normally encounter in your day-to-day work.

An article published in the Annals of Burns and Fire Disasters describes the success of postgraduate training courses that teach skills needed to take care of patients who suffer from burn injuries. If you want to gain additional competence after your formal residency and fellowship training is completed, you can still do so through continuing education courses.

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3. Practice for tough situations

With ongoing education in medicine, you can not only satisfy your appetite for medical knowledge but also gain exposure to challenging scenarios in the safe, educational setting of simulated learning.

For example, a study published in Studies in Health Technology Informatics evaluates the value of simulated learning of surgical and procedural skills with real-time feedback. Participants who used simulated learning techniques gained confidence and clinical knowledge; they would not otherwise have been able to access such a large number of real patients to quickly learn and practice these same valuable skills.

4. Keep pace with regulations

All doctors know that healthcare policies are constantly changing. Not knowing the rules that govern payment, documentation, patient privacy and compliance protocols can lead to trouble. Some post-training medical education courses focus on these issues, giving you clear and practical information about the complicated legal obligations that you may need to pay attention to as you carry out your job as a physician.

5. Fulfill licensure requirements

Of course, some of your obligations are around continuing medical education (CME) itself. It is essential that you participate in an allotted number of sanctioned CME hours to keep your state medical license and specialty board certification credentials. Each state has its own CME requirements, which you can find on your state’s medical board website.

Some medical and surgical board certifications also incorporate specialty-specific CME guidelines. And most specialties accredited by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) also require their own Maintenance of Certification (MOC) stipulations, which can include procedure logs, scored assessment examinations and/or courses. After you earn your initial board certification, you will have to complete MOC at specified intervals based on the parameters set by your specialty and subspecialty—or else your board certification will be terminated. Keep in mind that hospital privileges and procedural permission may hinge on keeping your ACGME board certification up to date.

6. Indulge your love of learning

Many healthcare professionals are naturally curious and have a hunger for knowledge, and they consider staying up to date to be a treat. That said, there’s not often adequate time for doctors to read up on medical areas of interest. An article in Nursing Management acknowledges this fact and suggests that healthcare professionals be provided with protected time for reflection and learning.

Even if you can’t get officially sanctioned time for continuous learning, explore your options for online or digital audio courses that you can complete at your convenience. However you do it, you won’t regret the effort you put into learning at all stages of your medical career.

Heidi Moawad, MD

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