Globally accessible medical education

Social media, can help provide world-class continuing medical education for anyone, and has been an invaluable money and time saver for Dr Justine Jordan, who shares her top tips

I often wonder how would I have got through my education to date without the help of the internet — it is almost unfathomable. The thoughts of opening Harrison’s Internal Medicine or sitting down to a journal paper after a 12- to 14-hour day is daunting.

Nowadays, I am finding it more and more difficult to find time for my continuing medical education (CME) outside of working and formal in-house teaching hours. As doctors, I believe the majority of us thrive on learning and we realise the importance of continuing our medical education.


Over the past three years, I have turned to FOAM/FOAMed (free open-access medical education) to enhance my CME. For those of you engaging with FOAM, you may be thinking I am late to the fold, but I thought I should highlight this invaluable resource, as I have recently met a number of Non-consultant Hospital Doctors (NCHDs) who are not familiar with it.

The majority of physicians and students have heard of FOAM, but for those of you who haven’t it is a dynamic collection of resources and tools for lifelong learning in medicine, as well as a community and an ethos. It includes blogs, podcasts, tweets, Google hangouts, online videos, text documents, photographs and a whole lot more.

FOAM is continually evolving and growing rapidly and is increasingly attracting interest from practicing clinicians, trainees, educators, researchers and publishers alike. In fact, the term was coined over a pint of Guinness by two Australian Emergency Physicians, Dr Mike Cadogan and Dr Chris Nickson, who were attending the International Conference in Emergency Medicine 2012 in Dublin.

Their aim was to avoid the negative connotations associated with social media. I admit I first cringed at the thought of setting up a Twitter account, but it has been central to the development of the FOAM community. My Twitter account is used for ‘work’ and I use it daily.

Twitter is free to access, allows you to selectively follow other users who have interesting opinions or ideas to share, and most importantly, Tweets are limited to 140 characters.

This forced brevity ensures users ‘cut to the chase’. Unlike heavy medical textbooks, Twitter can be opened anywhere. Even a few minutes can provide enough time to review a concise blog post that reminds you of some clinical concept you may have forgotten.

World-class physicians

Also, often on a long commute or cleaning at home, I can be listening to a topical podcast on my mobile phone. For example, the latest podcast I listened to was formulated by an exceptional Emergency Medicine Specialist Registrar (SpR) Dr Andy Neill for RCEM Learning (Royal College of Emergency Medicine) entitled Aortic Dissection.
It was fantastic to listen to patient experiences and tips on how to improve diagnosis of aortic dissection in the emergency department.
Learning no longer requires a classroom, as long as you have got intellectual curiosity and a phone handy. Most importantly, you can learn from world-class physicians who are leaders in their field, for free.

Ongoing conversations

FOAM, unlike many traditional forms of learning, provides a forum for ongoing conversations. It allows and encourages users to comment on the material being presented, which prompts discussions and debates among individuals around the world. It allows one to have opinions and to justify them. As trainees, I believe it is a fantastic outlet to highlight our ongoing learning and research outside of working hours.

I often post pictures of tips I learn at conferences or poster presentations I formulated etc.

Dr Nickson nicely summarised what FOAM is all about:
“FOAM should not be seen as a teaching philosophy or strategy, but rather a globally accessible crowd-sourced educational adjunct providing inline (contextual) and offline (asynchronous) content to augment traditional educational principles.”

Anybody who knows me at all can vouch for the fact that IT is definitely not my forte; I have a pretty short attention span and love anything interactive. I dislike some aspects of social media and really only maintain my accounts to keep in contact with friends and colleagues living and working abroad (that’s another article in itself).

But following #FOAMed on Twitter is easy to do, and provides concise learning outcomes that are topical. If I have a few minutes to spare I can review an interesting electrocardiogram or listen to a podcast on my phone, for example.

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