Learning in medicine is lifelong, and professionals will benefit from structures that support this

Dr. Bon Ku of the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Jefferson University offered us an analogy: elite professional athletes, even when at the very top of their sport, receive feedback and coaching virtually every day. There is constant opportunity for continued learning and improvement, and constant need for someone with a different perspective to comment on one’s strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities to improve. Why then, Dr. Ku asked, do we assess physicians with a multiple-choice exam (the Boards) once every ten years or so, and almost never in between? Here Dr. Ku highlighted that feedback is rare among experienced medical professions. Yet feedback – from peers, patients, and supervisors – is a valuable way for any professional to continuously learn and improve in an ever-adapting clinical setting. Many experts shared with us the importance of introducing regular, effective feedback into health professions from the very beginning, and reiterated that this should be a career-long piece of the profession.

Beyond just receiving feedback, health professionals need the chance to continue learning throughout their careers. In some ways, this already exists in the form of continuing medical education (CME), or a comparable equivalent. However, several people to whom we spoke noted that CME is both incomplete and underemphasized in the health professional’s role. Dr. Kunal Patel, who works on digital learning platforms for medical professionals, suggested that health professionals should have, on average, 2-4 hours per week of “protected learning time,” such that development of both clinical skills and medical knowledge becomes a constant, emphasized aspect of health careers. In addition, several experts emphasized to us that standard CME, much of which is conference-based, fails to address many of the most valuable aspects of medical careers, such as inter-professional collaboration and communication with patients. To truly build the healthcare workforce of the future, we not only need to be training health professionals with a variety of important competencies as they enter their careers, but also deliberately making frequent, ongoing learning an important part of their role throughout their careers.