Sunday, May 16, 2021

Am I Too Out-dated for My Day Job? or When Did Deep Reading Die?

I am a physician, an anesthesiologist who specializes in obstetrics and has remained in academia my entire career (25 years). It’s been rewarding, with lots of publications (that would cure insomnia), an introductory textbook (that was kinda cool), teaching awards (yay), several patents (that I wrote little of because attorneys don’t speak English (says the doctor)), and a long list of administrative positions (not my strength). More importantly, I’ve been privileged to take care of women at an incredibly special time in their lives and to work with amazing nurses and colleagues. Teaching the next generation to take skilled and compassionate care of pregnant women is a laudable goal, and I feel I still have something to offer in that vein (ha!), as all the other OB anesthesia-trained faculty at my institution are men. I think having experienced labor and delivery brings an added something to my teaching.

But…as I’ve grown older, I sound more-and-more like my grandfather (“kids these days”) and seem to have less-and-less patience for what I consider to be trainees’ lack of ownership of their own education. As a colleague once said, “We’re an institution of higher learning, not higher teaching.” I want them to be curious, to read about interesting cases, then come to me with thoughts and questions. Though it’s possible my memory is faulty, I recall that’s what I was taught, and it’s what I try to role model on a daily basis.

I tell the residents we had these things called books, made of mushed up trees. They were divided into topics, and you read them, like with your eyes, and you took notes on paper with a pen…possibly even in cursive(?!). Several glassy-eyed stares later they show me YouTube videos and practice question banks and podcasts. I’m not opposed to any of these, but they’re short-cuts. I have my own teaching videos on YouTube, and I created a question bank for the residents before they were available, but none of this is the same as READING. When you read, you control the pace. You pause, think, re-read, look up unfamiliar terms, check another source for unclear points, take notes in your own words. That’s how you learn…or maybe that’s just how I learn (backed by research…but finding that would require READING).

Don’t get me wrong, I love audiobooks and listen to at least one a week, alternating between non-fiction and novels. I listen to podcasts on topics that interest me (writing, technology, philosophy). I rarely watch Youtube unless the kids send something (nearly always humorous), or I need instructions on how to fix something before my husband finds out I broke it. But, barring certain medical conditions, there is no replacement for the eye-to-brain connection of a book or an ebook or even a well-selected website, though writing in the margins isn’t quite the same.

And I don’t want to scare anyone. We are still training superb physicians who will take excellent care of you and your family. Clinically, they learn the craft much as I did thirty years ago, as an apprentice under the watchful eye of myself and my colleagues. It’s just a different model outside the OR, and though I’ve been there through the metamorphosis, I’m not a fan. So I’ll keep telling them to be curious and learn more even if it won't be on the Board exam, and I’ll keep printing articles and referencing books. Maybe, when they’re out of training and have passed the Boards and paid down their student loans, they’ll find the time to read, for work and for pleasure.

I have an idea, how about Fatal Intent and its sequels???

~Tammy Euliano, MD

Author of Fatal Intent


  1. The young are impatient with what their elders want to teach them, including the methods used. Eventually they mature into realizing that the old folks have some good points there, and maybe they ought to pay attention. And then, one day, they realize that they are the elders facing impatient newcomers.

    It has always been that way, and it probably always will.

  2. Interesting perspective! I've had a few run-ins with medical students who immediately jump to the obvious but incorrect diagnosis because they don't talk to patients first.

  3. I agree with what KM said. As one of the now old and "wise," I realize how much I don't know and wish I had more questions of and listened closer to my elders when they were still around.

    And YouTube for fixing things before the husband learns you broke it? AMEN, sister!

  4. KM nailed it.

    If it weren't for kids trying new things in stupid ways progress would be a crawl. Of course there is some Darwinian pruning that occurs from time to time.

  5. I sing with the choir above. Although I've embraced the ease of some of the computer related learning, I agree with you about the lack of reinforcement between the eye and brain. Yet, I also said that about why I was never going to write on a computer...instead I was still going to stick to longhand ---- now, I only write on my computer. There is an ease that works, and I still seem to connect with what I'm writing... so perhaps, it is a matter of rewiring? Seems to me there is a happy compromise. I know I look at my grandchildren's generation and see an even different model of learning going on. .. of course, my children insist on book reading and I am known as the Reading Grandma because i always arrive or send books..... but will it last?

  6. A good, thought provoking post, Tammy. As a recently retired children's librarian, I'd say that reading, itself, is alive, well, and has a bright future among the bright young things who check out armloads of books. Deep reading though - yeah, you're right. It's a different process, a useful process. Maybe some of the bright young things will embrace it, or maybe they'll light things up with something new.