What Is the Best Way to Learn Clinical Skills?

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Clinicians now have many options open to them for learning skills and keeping up to date with medical innovations. So much information is available at our fingertips and just a click away, but self-study is not always the most practical nor efficient method of learning clinical information. What is the best way to learn medical information and be able to apply it in practice?

Based on the research, the answer seems to be that it depends somewhat on what you intend to learn. Quite a bit of research has shown that online learning in medicine, whether self-paced or synchronous, is at least as effective as traditional in-person learning like lectures for acquiring new knowledge.1 Some studies have even found online medical education to have better overall effectiveness and that it is often more satisfying for learners, but other studies have found an important difference between what is best learned online versus in person: clinical skills may be better learned in person.2

Indeed, a recent editorial in Academic Medicine recommends that face-to-face teaching should focus on experiences that cannot be replicated online, such as learning communication skills and clinical reasoning, as face-to-face clinical reasoning allows the knowledge to be applied to the specific patient in front of you.3 A study of medical students conducted during the COVID-19 pandemic found that while online learning was better for meeting individual learner needs and that satisfaction did not differ in online versus in-person learning, both interaction level and skill building were higher during in-person learning.2 Indeed, clinical skills building is one thing that seems to occur more readily in in-person learning environments, especially in small groups.4

Specifically, small group, case-based discussions held in person seem to be an excellent way to learn clinical skills.5 A recent study of continuing medical education for optometrists found that case-based discussion developed their knowledge and influenced later workplace practice, noting that the peer interaction of this mode of continuing education can combat professional isolation, especially for solo practitioners.6 In another study of rural general practitioners in Ireland using small group learning with facilitators, clinicians reported that sharing experiences with their peers during these groups helped them to improve patient care.7 More generally, small group, problem-based learning environments (like cases) have been shown to increase student interest and retention of knowledge, enhance transfer of concepts to novel issues, and improve students’ critical skills, teamwork ability, self-directed learning, and communication skills, as well as student to faculty and peer to peer interaction.8-10

If you are looking to elevate and hone your clinical skills in a way that may not be attainable at other programs, consider attending one of the in-person Clinical Skills Training (CST) programs in 2022. CST is an onsite workshop that uses small-group, facilitated, case-based learning to allow clinicians to get feedback on patients from their practice and learn from the experiences of other functional medicine clinicians and experienced, IFM certified facilitators. You come with cases from own practice and leave with not only feedback on your cases but new insights learned from the collaborative discussions on the cases of your peers.

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  1. Pei L, WuDoes online learning work better than offline learning in undergraduate medical education? A systematic review and meta-analysis.Med Educ Online. 2019;24(1):1666538. doi:10.1080/10872981.2019.1666538
  2. AlQhtani A, AlSwedan N, Almulhim A, et al. Online versus classroom teaching for medical students during COVID-19: measuring effectiveness and satisfaction. BMC Med Educ. 2021;21(1):452. doi:1186/s12909-021-02888-1
  3. Korman AA, Tannen AJ, Mahgerefteh MY. Can the internet replace face-to-face teaching? A medical student’s perspective. Acad Med. 2019;94(4):457. doi:1097/ACM.0000000000002576
  4. Burgess A, van Diggele C, Roberts C, Mellis C. Facilitating small group learning in the health professions. BMC Med Educ. 2020;20(Suppl 2):457. doi:1186/s12909-020-02282-3
  5. Kühne-Eversmann L, Eversmann T, Fischer MR. Team- and case-based learning to activate participants and enhance knowledge: an evaluation of seminars in Germany. J Contin Educ Health Prof. 2008;28(3):165-171. doi:1002/chp.175
  6. Bullock A, Barnes E, Ryan B, Sheen N. Case-based discussion supporting learning and practice in optometry. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2014;34(5):614-621. doi:1111/opo.12151
  7. Dowling S, Last J, Finnegan H, et al. How does small group continuing medical education (CME) impact on practice for rural GPs and their patients, a mixed-methods study. Educ Prim Care. 2020;31(3):153-161. doi:1080/14739879.2020.1728704
  8. Norman GR, Schmidt HG. The psychological basis of problem-based learning: a review of the evidence. Acad Med. 1992;67(9):557-565. doi:1097/00001888-199209000-00002
  9. Euliano TY. Small group teaching: clinical correlation with a human patient simulator. Adv Physiol Educ. 2001;25(1-4):36-43. doi:1152/advances.2001.25.1.36
  10.  Meo SA. Basic steps in establishing effective small group teaching sessions in medical schools. Pak J Med Sci. 2013;29(4):1071-1076. doi:12669/pjms.294.3609

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