What is the point of medical education?

I’m at a conference on medical education.  This is another one of these things that I never thought I’d “do” but I seem to have ended up involved with anyway… (Plus it means I get to come to awesome conferences like #MadeinHENE – which has been fantastic)

I know next to nothing about medical education (apart from the fact that I’m experiencing it, but I’m not sure how much that really counts for a lot of people): I started doing a MSc but decided I didn’t have time to do that and clinical exams and research; I go to a lot of meetings about education and training… and did I mention that I’m actually living and breathing this whole “medical education” thing?

What I don’t really understand though is this: what is the point of medical education?  What’s it for?

To train doctors, but for what purpose?  What are we trying to achieve?

A lot of what I hear about medical education talks in dichotomies: training or service provision; competence or professionalism; “basic” sciences or humanities…

If you’d asked me a few years ago, I would have said: training over service provision every time; professionalism over a competency based, curriculum driven, portfolio recorded experience….And of course, anatomy is a given: much more important than all this “communication skills” stuff…

Except… What is the point of all this training? What are we here for at the end of the day?

Is medical education about sharing the culture of what it means to be a doctor; to share the hidden secrets of a professional group?  Being part of a professional group is wonderful in so many ways: we share experiences, a culture, a language… But being part of any group can exclude others.  It supports this bubble that I think many of “us” live in; it means that patients and families have to use “our” language to be taken seriously in “our” world; it makes us different & special.  It’s comforting and comfortable when you’re in the group; but if you’re outside?  If you’re a patient trying to move in “our” world?

Is anatomy and histopathology really more of a basic skill than listening to a patient? (and I really mean ACTIVE listening, not just sitting there waiting for somebody to answer the questions that the Dr thinks are important) Is it more important to learn some pathological classification that is rapidly becoming outdated than it is to learn how to negotiate in a team, or how to be assertive and advocate for your patient?*

I don’t know (maybe I need to go back and do that MSc – don’t tell my PhD supervisor though…)

But I do wonder why we aren’t really talking about this?

*I am interested in oncology; I spent ages learning pathological classifications; and now it’s all gone to cytogenetics… Paradigm shifts are really, really annoying sometimes


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