Did it actually kill the cat?

“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”

-Albert Einstein

Although my wheelhouse at this point in my life is obviously medical education, I follow several Facebook pages that are more generally about education. Two of my favorites are Edutopia and MindShift; both routinely post information and ideas that are easily extended to the world of med ed and surgical education.  This morning MindShift linked to a piece that’s a couple of years old, and that I honestly didn’t see the first time by; fortunately, my own curiosity was piqued to go read about what’s going on inside the brain of a curious child. And, of course, I got unduly excited about the idea of using curiosity as a guidepost for learning activities. When I complete resident and student evaluations, one of the highest compliments that I give is when I describe someone as curious.

Let’s start from the perspective of the life-long learner.  Why do we keep learning things or asking questions? I would argue that it’s because we are innately curious.  Several of us on Twitter today were using #alwayslearning to describe what “residency” year we’re starting today (PGY-20 for me, if you’re wondering); to a person, the folks I saw participating in this are people I know to be inherently curious people who are not intimidated by the idea of not knowing everything all of the time.  They’re people whom I consistently see asking thoughtful questions and providing helpful answers on social media, and they are physicians who engage across specialties and interests.

This, in particular, is an area in which I see a positive use of social media.  If we’re in a state of curiosity, we get a nice hit of dopamine when we’re learning, and we are more effective learners. In spite of studies out there showing us that Facebook and Instagram make us feel worse because we start comparing, we could extrapolate that curiosity-driven social media interactions are beneficial and make us feel good. Yes, I just helped you rationalize that half hour you spent on Twitter earlier (and did the same for myself).

Curiosity helps us learn stuff that we’re interested in, which is great. The fact that it can help with learning those things that we don’t find so interesting…that’s where I see the real grab here. What if we were to ask our learners, “What are you curious about today?” as a starting point for their learning? Not only could we use that to facilitate their skills as a life-long learner, we could also use it as a way to transition to information they may be less curious about but that we know is no less important for them to understand. It makes learning collaborative, it fosters adult learning, and it often generates excitement that makes the learning process far more fun for both learner and teacher.

What are you curious about today?



Digital ones, that is.

Last month I was the co-moderator for a postgraduate course on technology during the annual American Burn Association conference; I previously shared my presentation on blogs and personal learning networks (and this week failed my own advice to post regularly).  We had some great presentations on a variety of aspects of using technology for professional networking and for patient care; questions on Day 1 were almost uniformly about social media and navigating the challenges of having a significant social media presence and maintaining a professional persona.

I know that many people, physicians in particular, shy away from having a significant digital presence because of concerns about interactions with patients and families.  There is also the issue of how professionalism is defined in the social media world- does “I know it when I see it” still hold?  And who gets to decide if something is “professional” or not?  I have been told by colleagues that their institutions essentially forbid them from having any online presence that can be connected to them.  And of course, people often hold on to what is a delusional hope of having separate personal and professional presence (hint:  in this day and age, good luck with that).

As far as patients and families go, everyone has to figure out what works for them.  I have some colleagues who have a “no, never” policy about being Facebook friends with patients and families.  My choice on that has been (1) I won’t send them a friend request, and (2) I will only accept friend requests once they are no longer in the acute phase of their care.  So far, this seems to have worked well, and I’m hopeful that since I am both clear and consistent that the effectiveness of this plan will continue.

In terms of professionalism, I suppose I’m honestly grateful for two things.  First, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram weren’t a “thing” when I was in college- and that’s probably good.  Those Party Pics from mixers and date parties are quite enough in retrospect.  I’m not saying I was wild (I wasn’t), but our judgment at 20 and judgment at 40-something are quite different.  Second, I lead what amounts to a boring life, at least if you’re in search of something incriminating.  My current Facebook profile photo is me with Santa and Mrs. Claus at Mile 8 of a half-marathon last December.

Santa & Mrs. Claus, Mile 8.
Santa & Mrs. Claus, Mile 8.

If you dig, you can find this:

Michigan 3-day with our flamingo walker-stalker
Michigan 3-day with our flamingo walker-stalker

Scandalous, right?  And while I’m certain there are people out there who would argue these aren’t professional, I would argue that there is nothing questionable about either- and that if anything, they deliver the message that I don’t take my life or myself too seriously.

Quite honestly for me, there is the added angle of being an educator who is expected to be a role model for my students and residents…something I admit that I get right most of the time, and something that I can get wrong too (because I am human, after all).  However, I like to think that I am showing them in the public domain how to life an authentic and joy-filled life that’s not all about surgery all the time.

Because, you know, it’s not.

Happy weekend friends!  Think of me running 13.1 miles in the morning and send thoughts for no rain until after 930 am Mountain time and strong feet and legs.