The Future of Medical Education May Look Drastically Different

By | May 5, 2020

During this pandemic, I am blessed to have a son finishing his senior year of college from our home. Candidly, it was fascinating to observe the dynamics of the educational process through a digital platform. It became apparent, rather quickly, that some, but not all professors excelled utilizing the online platforms; and some struggled to hold their student’s attention.

Though this is a truism of the digital age, it was also true back in when I attended medical school. There were professors that I would never dream of missing a lecture, and then there were those few others in which I knew sitting in the library versus the lecture hall was a better use of my time. Incidentally, it was during this time of my life that I perfected the skill of intricate doodling. Medical education is the intersection of science and patient care and given the current pandemic and in looking ahead, how we educate in the future may look drastically different than it does today.

Currently, we focus on evidence-based medicine, clinical variability, standardization when appropriate, and practicing our art of medicine. However, our training, although similar, occurs at separate institutions, by many different people with a variation of biases. In this digital age, is that the optimal education methodology?  Let’s envision a basic set of core curricula that we are all taught similarly, with the same information, by experts, not only concerning the information at hand but also in their teaching manner. Then picture a physiology class taught by a professor that understands how to coordinate the information with patient care with a whiteboard drawer (or the next, not-yet-foreseen methodology) who can capture, engage, and maintain your attention. Then, visualize this method is utilized to teach us all!

Since this method will allow for synchronous learning, no longer are we trapped in a learning paradigm where time is a factor. Compression or extension may occur, allowing greater flexibility. These “lectures” may also be coordinated with clinical rotations, so that one can adjust the ordering, thereby avoiding the ever-present time constraint in the current model.

Also, imagine how additional “classes” may transpire. Public health, business, human behavioral economics, and other such essential subjects can be layered in without having to find local professors or figuring out how to add time into a didactic model.

Human-learning theory teaches us that we all learn differently. Moving education out of our present paradigm will allow us to address such learning differences. Am I predicting the end to medical schools as we presently know them? Possibly, but is that a negative? Since the goal of educational institutions is to provide a service to their students, those schools that survive will figure this out and likely work together to create teaching consortiums as no single institution has all the components.

One of the values of a crisis like the current one, is that it forces us to reflect, adapt and develop new and innovative ways of thinking and acting. Recently, because of the pandemic, we have adjusted much of our thinking and how we do things. Perhaps, medical education may be a benefactor of such an adjustment.