Textbooks have been a mainstay of medical education for centuries. Although not a textbook in the  modern sense of the word, the Edwin Smith papyrus (17th Century BCE) is the earliest example of a healthcare education document.(1) Despite this longevity, textbooks face competition from areas  including AI, question banks and podcasts. The effect these innovative forms of learning have had on UK healthcare education will be explored, alongside personal examples of utilising such resources. 

Over recent years, lectures and textbooks have been supplemented with electronic learning. As early  as 2011, 71% of UK medical schools provided final year students with access to online resources.(2) While the majority of institutions did provide this type of resource, there was little standardisation  between universities. At first glance, textbooks may appear to offer more standardised teaching as the  same book will be the same anywhere, however this requires the erroneous presumption that  universities use the same texts. 

Although most medical schools opted to proactively provide e-learning in 2011, the outbreak of  COVID-19 forced the majority of universities to rapidly react and deliver teaching almost entirely  online. A 2020 paper surveying 2,721 UK medical students identified that the benefits of online  teaching were: time and money saved from travel, flexibility and the ability for students to learn at  their own pace.(3) Interestingly, the latter two benefits could apply to textbooks. Similar to an online  lecture in which students can pause and rewind, the pages in a book can be read anytime, anywhere  with any speed, marked for future reference and re-read. 

Another innovative example of being able to pause and rewind is the podcast. While the majority of  the literature focuses on the impact innovations have had on medical students, a study in Northern  Ireland examined how nursing students received pregnancy loss education via a podcast. The podcast  featured the lived experiences of three participants, yielding statistically significant increases in  students’ knowledge, skills, self-awareness and confidence.(4) While direct comparisons with textbooks  were not made, 94.7% of students stated that their prior training, which may or may not have involved  textbooks, was not adequate. Additionally, podcasts can be updated more readily than textbooks,  ensuring content is relevant and timely. 

Moving on from exploration of how innovative resources have been utilised throughout the UK, my  own experiences with these emerging technologies will be described. 

I have heavily utilised the question bank PassMedicine throughout my degree.(5) The question bank allows replication of the exact format in which I will be examined. Additionally, I have made extensive  use of the “Zero to Finals” podcast, listening to episodes when using a textbook would be impractical such as when running or driving.(6) Finally, I have used the flashcard software “Anki” in order to solidify  anatomical concepts, replicating the visual recall that is required in anatomy spotter exams.(7) 

Much like the authors of the Edwin Smith papyrus, textbooks may be dead but it remains to be seen  which, if any, innovative form of learning will dominate to become the textbook of tomorrow. 


1. Van Middendorp JJ, Sanchez GM, Burridge AL. The Edwin Smith papyrus: a clinical reappraisal of  the oldest known document on spinal injuries. European Spine Journal. 2010; 19(11):1815-23. 

2. Baldwin A, Webb R, Gainsborough N, Howlett D, Inglis C. Provision of electronic learning resources  by UK medical schools for final year students. Medical Teacher. 2011; 33(4):325-7. 

3. Dost S, Hossain A, Shehab M, Abdelwahed A, Al-Nusair L. Perceptions of medical students towards  online teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic: a national cross-sectional survey of 2721 UK medical  students. BMJ Open. 2020; 10(11):e042378. 

4. Galeotti M, Heaney S, Robinson M, Aventin Á. Evaluation of a pregnancy loss education  intervention for undergraduate nursing students in Northern Ireland: A pre- and post-test study. BMC  Nursing. 2023; 22(1). 

5. PassMedicine [Internet]. [cited 2023 Nov 11] Available from: https://www.passmedicine.com/index.php. 

6. Zero To Finals [Internet]. [cited 2023 Nov 11] Available from: https://zerotofinals.com/podcast/.

7. Anki [Internet]. [cited 2023 Nov 11] Available from: https://apps.ankiweb.net/.

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