Medical Collegiality

HippocratesAs a medical educator, I not uncommonly have doctors, who, eager to share their wisdom and experience, approach me with tricks of the trade they think might be useful to those I teach.  I really appreciate such gestures and have picked up some wonderful insights over the years in this way. Doctors’ willingness to share knowledge and experience with others is in stark contrast to those in professions such as law and in the world of corporate business. I’m proud to belong to a profession that values collegiality over the relentless pursuit of the competitive edge.

The preparedness to teach and share medical wisdom has long been a valued part of the medical culture, stretching right back to Hippocrates. Included in his 3rd Century BC oath is “to teach them this art … without fee and covenant.”  Mind you, I’ve been told that ol’ Hippocrates was not so keen on teaching the art of medicine to women, slaves or surgeons, but as with any ancient philosopher, it is useful to quote the pieces of wisdom that suit one’s purpose and ignore those that don’t.

The FOAM movement is a shining example of medical collegiality. For the uninitiated, FOAM stands for Free Open Access Meducation – medical education for anyone, anywhere, anytime. Medicine is a rapidly expanding and ever-changing field, and ongoing learning is a constant and career-long responsibility for physicians. Proponents of FOAM want to “make the world a better place” by making access to up-to-date medical information and educational resources readily available, easily accessible, and free to all.

FOAM is independent of any country, specialty, organization, platform or media. In addition to distributing information via traditional websites, podcasts and online videos, FOAM uses social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to enable physicians all over the world to collaborate, discuss and share their ideas and experiences. This effective professional use of social media has demonstrated conclusively that Twitter is not just for twits, and that there is more interesting information to be found on Facebook than what some “friend” whom you haven’t seen since primary school had for dinner last night.

Emergency and Critical Care physicians have led the way in this, but many Australian GPs have also embraced FOAM. You may like to check out and make Hippocrates proud.

Of course, old school face-to-face, peer-to-peer learning is still alive, well and wonderful. Corridor and tearoom chats, small group tutorials and conferences are all fabulous opportunities to hunt and gather clinical gems.

I was facilitating a multi-specialty workshop recently at which an orthopaedic surgeon, Dr X, asked to share his revolutionary tips for communicating with patients.  With genuine pride, he recommended “his” techniques:

“It makes the patients feel more comfortable if you sit on the same side of the desk as they do.”

“It is better to start a consult with “How can I help you today?” rather than “What’s your problem?”

“Patients like it if you let them dress and undress in private by getting a curtain or screen for your room, or by leaving the room while they change.”

Ground-breaking insights!

Mind you, he had a few less conventional ones such as recommending examining patients from a one metre distance when possible, but again, as with Hippocrates’ views, if helps to focus on the agreeable components.  Despite Dr X being a surgeon, I think Hippocrates would have applauded his willingness to share his wisdom with others.

As did I.


First published in Good Practice magazine, November 2014

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