Resident blogging program enhances learner engagement 

Brendan Murphy
Staff Writer
AMA Wire
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The textbook has long been the sharpest, most utilized instrument in the medical education toolbox. With more resources available, however, students are looking outside the traditional toolbox for answers.

A 2015 study found that emergency medicine residents cite podcasts as their preferred method of obtaining medical knowledge. Students, in fact, were only slightly more likely to consult a textbook than search Google.

For Gita Pensa, MD, a clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School, this shift represents a unique opportunity to engage her residents.

“The last several years have seen an explosion of high quality medical education blogs, podcasts and video channels,” said Dr. Pensa, who also works as Brown’s associate director of education for the Emergency Digital Health Initiative (EDHI). “These [creators] are independent doctors who feel they have an area of expertise who want to connect with other people via social media and put their work out there as open access sources for anybody who wants to engage with it.”

“At the same time, most of our 21st century learners are really well versed in using social media and going online and extracting what they need from the internet in terms of supporting their education,” she added.

Dr. Pensa’s work with emergency medicine residents at Brown may represent the next phase in the evolution of medical education in the digital space. Through the Brown EM Blog, residents in the program are shifting from consumers of digital content to creators. Dr. Pensa presented on the project at the recent AMA ChangeMedEd2017 National Conference.

Joining the FOAM party

Brown’s resident blog is a manifestation of the FOAMed (free open access medical education) movement. The concept behind FOAMed is that there are more mediums—podcasts, blogs, social media posts—for medical education and, in turn, more content. FOAMed created an umbrella under which they all can exist and offers equal access to the most up-to-date information across the globe.

While FOAMed is the concept, #FOAMed is the conversation. Each day the hashtag generates millions of Twitter impressions across the globe on topics ranging from elective surgeries to patient satisfaction.

“Even if you’re not engaged in this conversation, this conversation is happening without you on a very large scale,” Dr. Pensa said. “Anytime you [check the hashtag], you’re going to find all sorts of new and interesting things. It’s great for short attention spans, and it’s not just millennials that are suffering from that these days.”

Directing the conversation

The scope of the information available online is both impressive and, potentially, overwhelming. It is with an interest in curating that information, that Dr. Pensa’s original curriculum took shape in 2014.

“I started a course at our institution responding to the fact that residents were engaging in this without having any supervision,” she said. “So I started a course we were calling Asynchrony, where I would package up things from this open access network into teaching modules and I would give them to the residents.”

It wasn’t long, however, before the learners wanted to be more active in the digital conversation. From that desire, the Brown EM Blog was formed in 2015.

The blog has an editorial review process that isn’t much different from that of an academic journal. It is broken into sections, such as clinical images or procedures, each of which is overseen by a resident editor and faculty editor. When each of the editors has signed off on a blog entry, it is posted to the blog and shared through a Twitter account with the FOAMed hashtag.

The blog has grown from its original platform as has it audience, attracting more than 80,000 views in 2017. (One post on a case in which a patient’s eye was superglued shut attracted nearly 10,000 views.)

“When we put these posts online, there’s excitement on the residents’ part,” Dr. Pensa said. “They feel like they are learning from the process and then they are waiting for that post-publication peer review where someone from another institution or another country might comment on it or have a question and then they get to interact.”

Both the creation and interaction stages have proven to be platforms through which residents can grow.

“This is a really feasible way to get your learners involved in digital scholarship,” Dr. Pensa said.

“Not just from a consumption end of things but from a production end of things, which from an active learning standpoint, is a great tool.”

Dr. Pensa’s presentation was among dozens that took place during the ChangeMedEd conference. The event showcased how the AMA, through its Accelerating Change in Medical Education initiative, is working to reimagine and shape the future of medical education. 

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William B. Cutrer, MD
Oct 20, 2017
Med schools are working on a learning model to turn students into physicians who can effectively adapt to the ever-changing health care landscape.