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Is Medical Education the Same for Younger Physicians and More Senior Learners?

Medical education has been continuously evolving throughout the course of history, and this trend has continued to the modern era. In recent years, lectures have increasingly been replaced with interactive discussions, clinical cases, and hands-on workshops; and live meetings have been supplemented with online activities. A major driver behind recent changes in medical education is the desire to meet the needs of younger physicians. More than half of currently practicing physicians are now ‘digitally native’, meaning they were educated in an internet-enabled world. These physicians learn differently than more senior learners, with a greater focus on practical application, on-demand information, and collaborative experiences.

However, while much has changed regarding the needs and desires of physician learners, there are many constants in medical education. The first of these is that the desire to seek out medical education is almost always driven by a need to answer current challenges in practice. Most queries into a new topic begin with a unique clinical challenge. The format through which the learner obtains this information may vary with age and experience. Younger physicians tend to prefer easy, rapid access to information, and may favor a pre-existing digital platform, while a more senior learner may be more likely to seek out a meeting or workshop, or to read a review article or journal supplement focused on the topic.

Another constant in medical education is that physicians are busy. They have many demands on their resources, from patients and family to career obligations. Finding time to learn is challenging, and when they seek out learning opportunities, they expect to get the best value for their time. For some physicians, this may mean they prefer concise online activities, which they can complete in their office or home on their own schedule. For other physicians, they may carefully set aside time to attend live meetings, hoping time away from distractions can help augment the learning opportunity. Regardless of approach, a busy physician who sets aside time to learn is hoping for maximal educational value for a minimal time commitment.

A third constant in medical education is that the advice of experts is always valued. Use of thought leaders as teachers in educational activities elevates the quality of an activity and increases the value of an activity to the physician-learner. Expert faculty add insight and clinical perspectives that might otherwise be absent, and often the involvement of a specific expert is sufficient to attract the interest of a learner. According to a survey of physicians in the prIME Oncology network, the participation of a respected expert is one of the top three factors that influence their decision to participate in an education activity, and the opinions of internationally recognized experts are considered one of the best sources of information.

While much has changed in the world of medical education, much has also remained the same. Medical education will continue to evolve as the needs of its learners change, but it is important to keep in mind the constants that drive physicians who seek out learning opportunities, and to design high-quality educational offerings that meet these needs.