Thought leaders are an essential component of medical education, providing the expertise and experience that ensures an educational activity has a solid foundation. Beyond adding a wealth of knowledge regarding best practice and trends in drug development, thought leaders within a field act as a recognized and well-respected source for information. Simply put, physicians are more likely to trust that an educational activity is accurate and noteworthy if it is led by a physician they recognize as a leader in their field. Indeed, the very term “thought leader” arises from the sociologic observation that the opinions of trusted figures are more influential in shaping views and preferences than any other form of advertising.
Although independent medical education (IME) has gone through numerous changes over the past 70 years, the role of the thought leader has not diminished. Often the name attached to an educational activity can vastly influence whether a physician decides to participate. Furthermore, thought leaders can add insight and clinical perspective to an educational activity that simple data review alone cannot do. According to a survey of physicians in the prIME Oncology network, the opinions of nationally and internationally recognized experts was identified as one of the best sources of information about clinical advances. Likewise, activities that comprise a discussion between two thought leaders are rated as the most valuable form of online medical education. Physicians indicate that the thought leaders who participate in an activity, whether online or in a live meeting, are one of the top three factors that influence their decision to participate in an educational activity.
In a recent editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr Graham McMahon, president of the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME), had the following to say regarding the importance of thought leaders in IME:
“Now that information is ubiquitous, simple information exchange has a relatively low value; in its place, shared wisdom [has] become key.”
If the purpose of education was limited to the exchange of facts, it would have little value. The active participation of expert faculty, offering their opinions, insights, and advice, provides the true value in IME.