Evolution of Learning

The box on the computer screen is staring back at me. The title is “Qualifications for Expert Review.” I’m supposed to fill it in.

I started work today on a job that a colleague recommended me for, and I am finding it absolutely interesting. It is providing “expert review” on an educational unit for pharmacists. (This one particularly on post-myocardial infarction.) However, looking at the box that requires me to explain my qualifications makes me feel….well….. unqualified! I’m waiting for someone to tap me on the shoulder and say “Hey, who made you an expert?? Pass along this job to a real expert!”

Copyright Flickr, shared by aaron schmidt

Coincidentally, when I took a break from the work I pulled up this blog post by Jeff Utecht called “How Much Longer Will a Degree Mean Something?” The post is speculating on the future of education and points toward a growing trend, especially in areas of technology, where experience and knowledge can count for more than a degree.

He also discusses Stanford’s growing collection of free classes. Thousands are signing up for the same classes that others are paying huge tuition dollars for. You get a certificate rather than credit for the classes, but the learning opportunity is the same.

This had me pondering my own learning and “expertise”. What are my credentials other than my degree? What does my experience count for? And how about my passion for my practice and my desire to keep learning? Does that count towards expertise?

When I first got out of university I thought I knew so much. And I did really, I had lots of great book learning. (Seriously though, did we really need to learn the chemical structure of all those drugs??)

The most important thing I learned in University, however, is how to learn. And the knowledge I have acquired in the 15 years since I’ve been in practice is vastly greater than what I learned in University.

My first year practising a patient asked me how the drug captopril worked in the body. I proceeded to tell him in great detail how  angiotension converting enzyme inhibitors  worked including the entire renin-aldosterone system in the body. And while I’m sure he found that fascinating, it was probably too much information 😉

I’ve learned a lot about educating since then. I have also learned that some of my greatest teachers have been my patients.

Students today just can’t believe that when I started practicing pharmacy I had to keep paper files on every medical condition and drug therapy. I would clip journal articles or make notes

Copyright Flickr shared by Zach K

from text books. There was no internet, no google, no looking up original journal articles or searching relevant references in the blink of an eye. Technology has made acquiring knowledge so much easier and being able to find answers to clinical questions invaluable. Today I have the most prestigious medical journals at my fingertips and connection to colleagues around the world to debate with. If I want to learn, it’s there.

So, while I’m not sure I would go so far as to call myself an “expert” in any particular area, taking on a job that requires me to stretch beyond what I thought was my current knowledge base has lead me to realize that I am capable of much more than I thought and I have the tools right in front of me. I can reach into the area of “expert” and feel comfortable there for awhile.


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