Career Development: Three Keys to Life-long Learning

September 20, 2017 | Edinrin Obasare, MD
Career Development

"Go where the learning is!" This quote was declared by professor Everard Barton, MBBS, chairman of internal medicine at my medical school alma mater. As a student starting my clinical clerkships, this simple phrase helped pattern my approach to life-long learning. I learned most from daily teaching rounds at the patient's bedside and by subsequent readings, so the information stuck in my brain long-term. I grew excited and more confident from what I learned, creating a positive feedback cycle that made treating my patients enjoyable. This curiosity for learning drew me to a career in cardiology, where understanding and treating patients with cardiovascular disease was vast and fulfilling! With the magnitude of information to master in cardiology as an FIT, I use three main tools to facilitate life-long learning.

1) Discover how you learn – what is your intelligence type?:
In his book Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner, Harvard professor of cognition and education, described different types of intelligence people display apart from the traditional "academic" one. Gardner hypothesized that methods of measuring a person's intelligence were myopic and had little or no relevance to real world ability, capacity or success. Furthermore, he suggested that intelligence quotient (IQ) does not necessarily correlate to genius or "intelligence." Gardner described eight intelligence types based on his research:

  1. Linguistic/Verbal – words and language
  2. Logical/Mathematical – numbers and logic
  3. Visual/Spatial – judging space
  4. Body/Movement – body control and coordination
  5. Musical – melody, rhythm and harmony
  6. Interpersonal – communication and understanding people
  7. Intrapersonal – self-analysis and self-regulation
  8. Naturalist – skill with being outdoors

Discovering your intelligence type and how you learn enables you to capitalize on your strengths as you engage in life-long learning, which is highlighted in numerous studies.

2) Aggressively seek sources that facilitate your learning – "go where the learning is!":
As important as knowing how you learn, is also seeking where to do so. This varies for different people and is largely a path of self-discovery. For example, patients may be great teachers. In his 1927 landmark JAMA article, The Care of the Patient, Francis Peabody, MD, explains that failure of the young physician to establish a relationship with their patient accounts for much of the ineffectiveness in their care. Apart from learning from your patients, other ways include:

  • Reading books
  • Listening to audio-books or lectures
  • Attending conferences
  • Participating in research
  • Teaching others – such as residents and medical students
  • Spending time with mentors seeing patients
  • Utilizing the ACC's educational resources

3) Rest and unwind your mind and body – you deserve it:
I believe the capacity for learning is largely related to the condition your mind and body are in, much like how an athlete prepares for a huge race. I have never been a professional athlete, but I grew up on the island of Jamaica where we have remarkable ones. The Olympic gold medalist, Usain Bolt, is one of Jamaica's more prominent sprinters. In an interview with GQ magazine a couple years ago, he talked about how he prepares for a race:

"It's just my personality to be so relaxed. The majority of the time I'm chillin'. I'm always with friends and laughing – that's just me. If I'm not doing that then I'm playing video games and still relaxing. The more relaxed you are, the smoother and faster you'll run. Your muscles get tight when you tense up," Bolt said.

This idea may be very similar to how our brain functions. Therefore, to maximize life-long learning, I believe your physical and mental wellness may be optimized in certain ways:

  • Mindfulness – defined by the Harvard Business Review as actively noticing new things.
  • Self-reflection – paying attention to things in your life that are working and those that are not with the intent of improving.
  • Confidence – remaining secure in where you are and what you have achieved thus far, despite your pitfalls or strengths.
  • Humility – recognizing your own fallibility and using it as a stepping-stone for success.
  • Sleep – this may be a hard one in our specialty, but when possible, sleep is a great way to recharge the brain.
  • Exercise – helps to release stress and increase overall energy levels.
  • Eat right – nourishing your mind and body with the right nutrients to allow peak performance.
  • Community – surrounding yourself with people who share you values and support your ambitions.
  • Enthusiasm – having a winning and optimistic outlook on life, including work.

I believe adopting the above three key elements support the pursuit of life-long learning through:

  1. Making learning easier, fun and rewarding
  2. Improving fund of knowledge and overall competency
  3. Improving stress and clarity of thought

Now with these life-long learning tools in hand, continue being active with the ACC and its plethora of resources available to support you!

This article was authored by Edinrin Obasare, MD, a Fellow in Training (FIT) at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, PA.