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Doctors Need More Individualized Learning Plans

Tue, 03/09/2010 - 5:51am

Physicians would be better prepared for the accelerating rate of scientific discovery and more in step with the latest in patient-care if they added an important tool to their medical arsenal – a plan for how to keep pace with emerging health-care advances. That is the finding of a national study published online in the journal Academic Pediatrics.

“Medicine is not a static profession,” said Su-Ting Li, assistant professor and associate residency director in the Department of Pediatrics at the UC Davis School of Medicine. The study, Factors Associated With Successful Self-Directed Learning Using Individualized Learning Plans During Pediatric Residency, involved 23 percent of all pediatric residency programs in the United States and nearly 1,000 of the approximately 1,700 pediatric residents surveyed. Participants were dispersed throughout the country.

For the study, the residents responded to computerized survey questions developed at UC Davis about their ability to continuously assess their level of skill and their use of Individual Learning Programs. 90 percent of respondents said they knew their strengths and 92 percent knew their weaknesses. But only 26 percent said they tracked their progress toward achieving their learning goals.

But tracking progress on achieving their learning goals was found to be one of the most important factors in attaining them. The finding suggests that among the many ways that training programs could support self-directed learning, “putting in place systems that make it easier for residents to track their progress toward achieving their goals would likely be the most effective and bring the greatest return on investment.”

For example, at UC Davis, pediatric residents are required to create individualized learning plans three times a year and have them reviewed with their faculty advisor. The study findings are important and have implications for all physicians, not just pediatric residents, Li said.

Research has shown that once doctors complete their residencies, if they do not continue to keep up with current advances in medicine, they quickly have a knowledge base that is lower in terms of current treatment regimens for disease than more recent graduates. “There is all of this wonderful new technology and there are all of these research papers being published all the time, and you'd love to be able to read them all. But there is such a large proliferation of biomedical advances that you have to figure out how to prioritize more than ever before,” Li said. “Then you need to figure out how to incorporate the information into your practice.”

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