Today’s medical students, residents, and fellows are accustomed to learning via Internet-based and smartphone-enabled technology which can showcase medical advances faster than textbooks or other traditional educational tools.
Christopher Collins, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University Medical Center and program director for the fellowship program in the division of rheumatology at Washington Hospital Center, both in Washington, D.C., is working diligently to supply state-of-the-art e-learning tools for use in rheumatology education.
Using funds he received from the Rheumatology Research Foundation’s Clinician Scholar Educator Award, Dr. Collins has launched an interactive, case-based website, www.rheumwire.com, started a Twitter feed with advice for medical trainees and physicians interested in rheumatology, and created a repository website that houses his educational tweets.
In its initial stages, www.rheumwire.com featured interesting cases presented at monthly conferences held by several rheumatology training programs in the Washington, D.C. area. “The idea was to highlight some of these cases in an interactive format that is Web-based and could be made available to a broader audience,” Dr. Collins said.
Foundation funds allowed Dr. Collins to educate himself in e-learning and Web-based design. The website he created presents cases in both a storytelling mode and an interactive, search-and-discover approach. Dr. Collins measures the usefulness of the website through surveys that ask visitors to indicate the value of the case-based and didactic information presented.
The website also features educational pearls of wisdom written by Dr. Collins. The popularity of these nuggets spawned the stand-alone Twitter project that he calls a social media experiment in medical education. Dr. Collins launched his Twitter feed, @rheumpearls, by tweeting one piece of knowledge each day. The feed has attracted more than 1,000 followers, including patients interested in learning more about rheumatic diseases. He estimates that one-third of these followers are patients with rheumatic diseases.
“I think Twitter is a very interesting social media phenomenon with a lot of potential for education,” Dr. Collins said. “Our attention spans are quite narrow at times, so if you can pump something out in 140 characters and have it stick with somebody, that is an opportunity to explore further.”
Along with the Twitter feed, Dr. Collins developed www.rheumpearls.com, a website that serves as a repository for his rheumatology-related tweets. The website has garnered almost 9,000 unique visitors from 102 countries.
These websites and social media initiatives are just the beginning of a trend toward using social media and the Web as a major channel for education, said Dr. Collins. He plans to launch additional Web initiatives focused on case-based learning. He also plans to work with rheumatology colleagues to create smartphone applications and test additional Twitter feeds or Facebook pages geared toward education or patient advocacy.
“E-learning is the wave of the future,” Dr. Collins said. “I’m one of the primary educators in our program. I started out as associate program director and, as a consequence of getting the Foundation’s Clinician Scholar Educator Award, I was promoted to program director. These projects are a natural meld of my education, interest as an academic faculty member, program director, and fellowship training program director, as well as my own interests in computers and Internet-based medical education.”
For more information about the Foundation’s Awards and Grants program, including how to apply, visit www.rheumatology.org/Foundation or contact Damian Smalls, senior specialist of awards and grants, at (404) 633-3777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.