for efficient learning for busy doctors How can doctors fit learning and study into their busy lives without going into information overload? How can learning be made fun and integrative? What assists learning and retention of information? Dr Lisa Fraser, former GPTQ Registrar Liaison Officer answers these questions and more as she provides some ‘hot tips for efficient learning for busy doctors’ below. Lisa is a former RLO at GPTQ, an interface between registrars and training groups, offering confidential advice, advocating for change, and helping registrars navigate the GP training journey. 1. Get together Don’t operate alone. It is more efficient to learn from and with others. This may include regular study in a group or getting together periodically with your peers. Other people have already invented the wheel, so sharing tips, ideas and resources is a great way to reduce your workload. “Study groups are highly recommended,” says Lisa. “Registrars are more likely to pass exams if they study in a group.” Check out what informal online study groups are available to you or start up one of your own. For example, GPTQ has a closed Rural Facebook group for anyone who is a GP Registrar. Other groups include Medical Mums. Search for a local group on Facebook or use Skype or similar programs to connect with other registrars. 2. Make a realistic plan Consider which areas to focus on and specifically how they are going to be covered by study. “Plan how you will fit the study into your week and life,” says Lisa. “Focus on areas that are hard for you, but don’t plan to cover entire chapters.” What areas do you tend to avoid (hate)? Which ones do you love? Take a deep breath, have courage and start with the stuff you are rusty on. It’s not possible to study an entire book in one week. Be confident that you can achieve your study goals – it’s better to achieve a small plan, than fail at a big plan. When studying in groups, think about how the group will function and first plan what the group study will involve. For example, questions, case studies, teaching each other five main points, and so on. Don’t just regurgitate summaries. 3. Maintain balance and a healthy lifestyle This includes exercising most days, eating well, avoiding alcohol and excessive caffeine (or caffeine after 3pm) and sleeping at regular times. “All these things matter, particularly during times of increased stress and anxiety,” says Lisa. “Sleep is more important than cramming in another chapter of reading. Spend some time planning your routine before bed – put the books down and turn the screens off at least an hour before bed. Your brain needs time to get ready for sleep.” Trouble sleeping is a hallmark of anxiety and stress, says Lisa. Ways to improve your sleep include practicing mindfulness and switching off. For example, put your worries and thoughts in a ‘worry jar’ and close the lid before bed – use imagery to wave your thoughts goodbye for the night. Anxiety during exams is normal. If you wake up during the night, have a strategy to get back to sleep, that does not include study. Do something menial and repetitive, such as ironing or reading a boring book, but do not activate your brain. It’s important to remember that this too will pass. Sleep problems are common, and feel terrible, but they won’t last. 4. Stay positive A negative mindset can exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety. It is important to stay positive, think positively and develop strategies for success. Try to be less of a perfectionist at home, in relationships and in your social life. In order to stay positive, it is also important to stay connected and maintain your support base. This may include family, friends, medical colleagues and other health professionals. “Maintaining friendships outside of medicine is as important as having people to share your medical journey with, as they will often give you healthy perspective,” says Lisa. And of course, ask for help if you need it from your university, teachers, colleagues, university counsellors, community psychologists and GPs. Stress, anxiety, depression and substance use are common in the health profession: if you see someone struggling, ask what you can do and encourage them to see their GP. 5. Plan some rewards throughout the study period and for after exams Aim to reward your hard work and effort, not just the exam mark. It’s important to create positive experiences for yourself throughout this stressful time so that your brain creates positive associations with study. This may include planning a short holiday for when your exams have finished and giving yourself small rewards throughout the study time, such as dinner out with friends, a present to yourself or a small reward at the end of the week. Practice experiencing pleasure during the mundane and stressful times and ‘trick’ your brain into associating study with happy and positive experiences. 6. Be efficient Vary your mode of learning every 30 to 60 minutes. For example, do some reading, answer some practice questions, then summarise what you have learned in tables and drawings. There is evidence to suggest that by using all your senses, you can enhance learning and integrate knowledge better than if you only use one mode of learning, such as reading. Listen to yourself and notice when your attention is waning. Take a break when you find yourself losing interest in what you are studying. Go for a walk, listen to some music, and come back feeling refreshed. 7. Consider how you learn Think about how you learn best. For example, if you are not good at, or don’t find reading appealing, consider using podcasts, DVDs or interactive 3D online learning environments. You may be predominantly visual, auditory or sensory. Play to your strengths. Think about what style of learning is best for you and make study easier on yourself by researching all the options available to you and finding the ones which suit you best. 8. Attach learning to a significant memory Once again, hack your brain and train it to connect your learning to a significant event or emotion, as you are more likely to remember and be able to apply it. For example, you might use a case study, patient, picture or person to pick what topics you are going to study that day. “Read a little every night about what you see on rotation,” says Lisa. “You will be more likely to recall something when it’s attached to an experience or person.” Want to know more? RACGP, GPRA, GPTQ (MyGPTQ) and gpexamsupport.com.au have many resources available to assist your exam preparations, including checklists, case studies and ‘how to’ guides. Click on the links to find out more.