Human InterestPersonal History


As a physician, one makes a long-term commitment to learning. Not a month, not a week, and not even a day went by when I didn’t attend a lecture, seminar, or meeting on some medical subject, or learn something from a colleague. There was always a new subject to learn about; a new drug, a new procedure, a new treatment recommendation. I thought about this recently when I was mentally comparing my work day to those of many other folks. I functioned in a constant environment of learning. 

As a medical student, I obviously had lectures and labs Monday through Friday and Saturday mornings. The last two years, teaching sessions were conducted during hospital rounds at the patient’s bedside. The attending physician posed questions about the patient and explained the details of his/her diagnosis. I had small group teaching sessions conducted by staff physicians once or twice every day. As an intern, I had all this plus sessions on reading x-rays and EKG’s. Once a week, I attended tumor board, an hour-long discussion of difficult patients with cancer, and listened to lectures and teaching sessions every day.

Residency was similar to internship, but a bit less intense. The frequency of teaching sessions was less, but they still occurred every day. A lot more time was spent on self-study from recent journal articles or refreshing my knowledge by reviewing information in medical textbooks. I still had a lecture, though, at least once every day. Faculty members from the medical school came to the hospital and lectured on a topic in his/her specialty area. The radiology department (X-ray) presented weekly educational sessions, as well.

During both internship and residency, at least once a month I attended “Grand Rounds.” This was a big deal. During Grand Rounds, a visiting professor, or someone respected in their field, came to lecture and share new information in their area of research or expertise. Grand Rounds was another of the many educational opportunities available.  

Two or three times a year, instead of hosting a visiting professor, Grand Rounds was a clinicopathologic conference (CPC). Here, attendees were presented the details of a case history, and a faculty member was challenged to determine the patient’s diagnosis and pathologic findings discovered at autopsy. The patient in the case, of course, was deceased, and his/her diagnosis was unknown until an autopsy was done. From the case history, the professor made an educated guess about the diagnosis. His conclusions were compared to the actual autopsy findings. CPC’s were a huge challenge as a student but were easier as my educational experience broadened.

In practice, learning continued. To maintain board certification, I was required to complete a minimum of 50 hours of continuing education every year, or 300 hours over 6 years. Credits could be earned many ways, but study, reading, or attending a lecture or seminar was always required. I learned a lot from specialists, too. The report from the specialist’s consultation frequently contained information of educational value, and learning that helped me figure out what was wrong with the patient. 

So, now, in retirement, I’m still learning. For this blog, I read two journals and countless other newsletters received via email. I learn something new at least every week if not every day. There’s always some old subject to be reviewed or something new to learn. 

A lot of people have educational sessions in their work careers. They need to learn a new skill or technique and attend an “in-service.” Physicians are constantly presented with something new as health care change and innovation are very fluid! Keeping up can require a full-time effort. 

Any lecture, talk, or presentation I attend now is just another of the many I have attended over my professional life. I’m used to them. In fact they have become common place and routine, but I never fail to get the most from them I can. For some folks, however, lectures, et al. were not a daily occurrence, and their experience and perspective on learning differs from mine. The point here is people in a non-academic line of work have different educational experiences, and lectures are singular occurrences. That may sound arrogant, but it is not intended to be. I’m merely pointing out the difference in people’s educational experience. For the guy sitting next to me at the seminar, it’s his first lecture in two years. For me, or most physicians, it’s the fourth one this month. But we’re both here with the same goal in mind. 

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