The term obsolete can be used to describe innovation surpassing an original process.  I propose the notion that technology has revolutionised our relationship with information, and as a result, traditional printed textbooks are obsolete in 21st century medicine.  

In a post-SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic era, the notion of a medical student depending solely upon large biblical-style textbooks within a physical library is changing. Physical textbooks, whilst the historic norm for many decades, are often heavy, expensive and contain vast quantities of information which can rapidly become inaccurate or obsolete [1][2]. Furthermore, in comparison to online resources, printed books have a significant financial and environmental impact [3]. Studies amongst medical students highlight that e-learning, including online question banks, are now the most popular revision tool [4]. Despite the changing culture, some smaller studies counteract these criticisms, evidencing that textbooks remain popular amongst medical students due to their ability to manually highlight and annotate on paper [5].  

The revolution of digitalisation has radically transformed our society away from paper-based practices [6]. Across textbooks, research journals, patient health records and medical school examinations, the future of medical practice and education is becoming digital [7]. Rather than limited to print, a digital medium enables health information to become accessible, portable, and affordable for our patients and the public [8]. As clinicians, we can synchronise the latest evidence-based research directly to smart devices at the patient bedside. Within medical education, simulation, video media and online question banks provide an interactive and immersive experience, surpassing the capabilities of printed text [6]. Like the movement of medicine for our patients, medical education is undertaking a personalised and digitalised approach.   

Within my own experience as a graduate-entry medical student, I felt enormous pressure to invest in the infamous textbooks including Gray’s Anatomy, Kumar and Clarkes Clinical Medicine and Rang and Dales pharmacology. However, along with the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic forced my cohort into the virtual learning environment. Here, instead of dog-eared pages, we sought information through virtual classrooms, shared online notes and e-book chapters. During this virtual era, I turned to Acland’s online anatomy videos instead of Gray’s Anatomy, seeking PassMedicine question banks in the place of book pages. I believe that the reality for current graduating doctors, is that many are yet to open a printed medical textbook or a paper copy of the British National Formulary (BNF).  

In conclusion, it can be argued that technology has revolutionised our interaction with health information, and as such, paper-bound textbooks are obsolete. I propose an additional viewpoint to consider the evolution of textbooks. Here, medical students continue to assimilate the comprehensive knowledge from medical books, but this has now dissipated into e-books, clinical knowledge summaries and best practice guidelines. The benefits are more accessible, accurate and personalised information for students to access and apply directly to patient care. On reflection, as I begin my career in medicine, I recognise the value of technological literacy as a Junior Doctor. Our ability to use new virtual platforms is paramount to achieving high quality patient care.  


[1] Tez, M., Yildiz, B., (2017). How Reliable Are Medical Textbooks? J Grad Med Educ. 9(4):550. 

[2] Stevenson, C. (2007). Educational resources: website and book review. Anaesthesia. 62(1):103-7.  

[3] Walsh, K. (2018). E-learning in medical education: the potential environmental impact. Educ Prim Care.29(2):104-106.  

[4] Wynter, L., Burgess, A., Kalman, E. et al. (2019). Medical students: what educational resources are they using? BMC Med Educ. 19, 36. 

[5] Klein, S. (2020). Medical students prefer print textbooks for studying but value the e-books’ search function and availability. Journal of EAHIL. 16 (1): 12-15.  

[6] Guze, P. A. (2015). Using Technology to Meet the Challenges of Medical Education. Trans Am Clin Climatol Assoc. 126. 260-70.  

[7] Tudor, C. L., et al. (2022). Digital Education for Health Professionals: An Evidence Map, Conceptual Framework, and Research Agenda. J Med Internet Res. 24(3):e31977.  

[8] Tonsaker, T., Bartlett, G., Trpkov, C. (2014). Health information on the Internet: gold mine or minefield? Can Fam Physician. 60(5):407-8.  

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