Textbooks are dead, what are we going to do instead?

 A confession: I use my copy of Gray’s Anatomy as a doorstop. The landscape of medical education is evolving, with students like me increasingly departing from traditional resources in favour of ever-advancing technological tools. Podcasts, social media, and apps redefine learning experiences, presenting opportunities and challenges.

I listen to the Zero to Finals podcast on walks. As my workload grows, I increasingly appreciate this free and expansive resource. A 2022 review of 44 med-ed studies revealed a transformation in medics’ attitudes towards educational podcasts. In 2007, 60% felt podcasts had no role in professional development, but by 2019, 71% of doctors across multiple programs supported their use (1) Qualitative studies found podcasts blend education with entertainment(2), providing a more “engaging” format than textbooks(3). Listeners reported podcasts demand less “mental energy” to consume than traditional resources(3), with lower effort required for listening than reading academic texts(3). But podcasts’ flexibility is a pitfall too. Textbooks are closed while their owners cook, drive, and exercise, yet podcasts allow medical education to permeate almost every aspect of life. As burnout reaches record highs(4), medics must exercise caution to ensure the accessibility of podcasts does not become all-encompassing.

From YouTube tutorials on UCAT preparation, to Facebook groups for medical specialties, social media (SoMe) is a staple of my medical education. It fosters active learning and collaboration (5), exemplified by student-led initiatives like Decolonising the Medical Curriculum Reading List (6), aimed at addressing racial inequality in med-ed. TikTok hosts a wealth of medical education content in high-yield videos, dubbed 'micro-learning', with over 4.6 billion views under #meded (7). Pedagogical theories underpin TikTok’s utility; use of multimedia in education rather than single formats like textbooks or PowerPoint is proven to improve information retention (7). Yet there are challenges. Some senior professionals are slow to adopt new technologies, leading to a lack of leading expertise online (8). TikTok lacks reliable source verification, risking spread of medical misinformation(5). While SoMe combats inequality in medicine, it exposes educators to online harassment (5).

I use a constellation of medical apps daily: Passmed for revision while commuting; Medical Flashnotes for pathology reviews. Studies reveal widespread use among medical students, with 80% owning medical-related apps (9). The rapid growth of med-ed apps is evident; from just 11 in 2012 aimed at students to 176 four years later. Apps simplify learning; MDCalc handles complex scoring systems, and Anki Flashcards make downtime on the ward productive. Yet drawbacks exist. Survey responders said phone use “appears rude to patients” and suggested “cultural” perceptions of phone use being impolite must be “overcome” to progress education (9). One study found 40% of students felt phone-use reduced time spent with patients (10), but is this efficient if time saved is not spent with patients? Phones challenge work-life balance, with a survey of med-student phone use finding 42% considered themselves addicted, impacting quality of life (9). While I value apps, perhaps quiet moments on the ward are better spent in reflection rather than cramming for exams.  

As medical education advances through tools like podcasts, social media, and apps, it's vital to balance benefits and limitations, ensuring they complement rather than dominate learning experiences. Gray’s Anatomy will stay on my floor for now, but perhaps in the future, the traditional can find its place in my learning landscape. 


1. Kelly JM, Perseghin A, Dow AW, Trivedi SP, Rodman A, Berk J. Learning Through Listening: A Scoping Review of Podcast Use in Medical Education. Vol. 97, Academic Medicine. Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 2022. p. 1079–85. 

2. Malecki SL, Quinn KL, Zilbert N, Razak F, Ginsburg S, Verma AA, et al. Understanding the use and perceived impact of a medical podcast: Qualitative study. JMIR Med Educ. 2019 Jul 1;5(2). 

3. Riddell J, Robins L, Brown A, Sherbino J, Lin M, Ilgen JS. Independent and Interwoven: A Qualitative Exploration of Residents’ Experiences with Educational Podcasts. Academic Medicine. 2020;95(1):89–96. 

4. Burnout hits record high. 

5. D’souza F, Shah S, Oki O, Scrivens L, Guckian J. Social media: medical education’s double-edged sword. Future Healthc J. 2021 Jul;8(2):e307–10. 

6. Bhambra GK, Gebrial D, Nişancıoğlu K. Decolonising the University [Internet]. Pluto Press; 2018. Available from: https://www.instituteforhealingandjustice.org/egfr

7. Lacey H, Price JM. #MedEd—The ‘TikTok’ frontier of medical education. Clinical Teacher. 2023 Oct 1;20(5). 

8. Thamman R, Gulati M, Narang A, Utengen A, Mamas MA, Bhatt DL. Twitter-based learning for continuing medical education? Vol. 41, European Heart Journal. Oxford University Press; 2020. p. 4376–9. 

9. Payne KFB, Wharrad H, Watts K. Smartphone and medical related App use among medical students and junior doctors in the United Kingdom (UK): A regional survey. BMC Med Inform Decis Mak. 2012;12(1). 

10. Awasthi S, Kaur A, Solanki H, Pamei G, Bhatt M. Smartphone use and the quality of life of medical students in the Kumaun Region, Uttarakhand. J Family Med Prim Care. 2020;9(8):4252. 

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