HealthMarch 09, 2020

Keeping up with medical knowledge: How to stay on top of medical advances

By: Brian Wu, MD, PhD

Keeping up with medical knowledge shouldn’t end when you finish your formal education. In fact, the ongoing process of education, learning and growth should be a daily part of your practice. This is easier said than done, of course, and the transition from student to physician can come with a range of competing challenges. Here’s some advice to make keeping up with medical knowledge a little easier.

Retain your curiosity

In a post on the New England Journal of Medicine blog, Dr. Elisabeth Poorman writes about the importance of remaining curious in the face of the day-to-day tasks of being a doctor. This may be difficult in a busy practice where much of the work is routine and tedious. Yet if you don’t maintain this curiosity, your inertia may keep you relying on techniques that are imperfect or even obsolete. Try thinking back to the tests you order for your patients. Do these tests really give you the information you need to make a diagnosis, or are there new techniques or procedures you can bring into your practice that could make it better?

It’s not uncommon for new doctors in particular to feel overwhelmed by the demands their profession makes on them. Under these circumstances, there’s a temptation to stick with techniques and practices that are familiar or that have been successful in the past. Don’t let staying in your comfort zone prevent you from growing and developing as a doctor. Instead, maintain a growth mindset and expect your education to continue throughout your career.

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Know which resources to use

The fast pace of development in medical knowledge has actually made staying current more difficult. You have to continually educate yourself about new drugs and treatments and keep a close eye on the published literature in your field. Realistically, though, it’s impossible for one person to keep up with all the available information and recall it on demand. You need help. Fortunately, there are resources at your fingertips that can make all this easier.

Consider online subscription services. For example, UpToDate is a point-of-care clinical decision support resource informed by thousands of physician authors, editors and reviewers who review and synthesize the most recent medical information into evidence-based recommendations. Another valuable digital tool is 5MinuteConsult, which provides both quick answers for decision support as well as continuing medical education (CME) credits.

AudioDigest also offers CME credits for physicians, pharmacists and other healthcare professionals. A number of options are available: You can subscribe to a curated library of lecture recordings tailored to your field or topic of interest, to the most recent lectures or to the entire CME library. Each lecture comes with a written summary, suggested readings and test questions.

Collaborate with other practitioners

During the course of our medical education, we hear a lot about the importance of collaboration. Putting it into practice can prove much more challenging. Lynda Chin and Greg Satell argue in the Harvard Business Review that physicians should strive for a “medical information ecosystem” in which the various healthcare stakeholders—doctors, nurses, pharmacists and related professionals—interact with and benefit each other like different organisms in a natural environment. The end result of this interdependence is better patient care—and outcomes.

While this level of cooperation may still lie in the future, there’s a simple step you can take to move yourself a little closer. Dr. Poorman notes that tools like social media can help you to connect with patients and with others in your field, providing you a wide variety of perspectives and viewpoints on a given issue. This diversity of viewpoints can change or expand your perspective on a problem and lead you to be more creative about solutions.

Again, it’s important to remember that completing your medical training doesn’t end your process of keeping up with medical knowledge—it begins it. Keep your mind curious and explore what tools can help make your medical journey one that is both richly rewarding and keeps you engaged in the important work you’re doing, no matter what stage of your medical career you happen to be in.

Brian Wu, MD, PhD

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