Pedagogical Problems: Continuing Medical Education

By | September 14, 2011


Hospital based continuing medical education is more like community college, than Harvard.

I would like to take a short break from our search for the best pain clinic in Los Angeles to discuss some interesting topics in education. The twin questions of knowledge and education have always fascinated me. We have devoted several pages to questions of epistemology, but have dealt with the problems of pedagogy only in passing. In some sense the questions of pedagogy are more interesting because they have more to do with what makes us human. Let me give you an example. You can model epistemological problems on a supercomputer or examine problems of truth from the perspective of an imaginary incorporeal intellect. The truth of Descartes’ famous proposition rests in the fact that he was a sentient being with self-awareness, not necessarily a human one. But the questions of pedagogy are species specific. It may be that in some cases the best way to teach people is the same as the best way to train dogs, but more often than not it will be different. What are the best ways to transmit knowledge and instill a thirst for learning? What are the recurring and the enduring themes that pervade human history and endeavor?

One is the idea of continuing education. It has been argued that the real educational gems of America are not the institutions of the Ivy League, but its community colleges. I do not believe that Harvard is really better than Oxford or the Sorbonne. All developed countries do a pretty goof job of educating their intellectual elites, but the real advantage that America has enjoyed and to some extent continues to enjoy is how we educate those who are less gifted or less motivated and how we recycle people whose skill sets have been made obsolete by technical innovation. This is done at literally thousands of two year institutions throughout the country, where people tend to study for months at a time as opposed to years, during cold dark evenings in nondescript class rooms rather than sunny afternoons in grassy quadrangles and where they pick up the things they missed the first time around or dabble in new subjects that didn’t even exist when they went through school the first time.

The medical equivalent of this in my opinion is community and hospital based continuing medical education. Here doctors, both primary care physicians, PCPs and specialists can gather before the office starts, during their lunch hour or after work for 30, 60 or 90 minutes to learn what is new in a related field or how the standard of care has changed in areas that they have not worked seriously in for 30 years. In this spirit, I am proud to announce that I will be delivering a lecture to the nursing staff and the medical staff of Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center this Friday at noon.

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