Literacy was once characterized by the ability to read and write. But in modern terms, literacies may be viewed as the skill sets needed to function. Howard Rheingold tells us, “Literacy is skill plus social competency.” Better put: It’s what we need to be able to do.
This got me thinking: What do doctors need to be able to do?
Physician literacies have traditionally been based in an analog world. Most are centered on silo’d 21st century workflows. For example, as doctors we once needed to know how to find information in books and libraries. Handling paper medical records brought its own skill sets. And don’t forget dictaphones.
But times have changed. Call me crazy, but here are some of my fav literacies for the 21st century medical professional:
Shape an idea in under 400 words
This involves understanding how a piece of writing might display in digital format and how the layout of that information impacts its ability to convey an idea. Why 400 words? It’s how the world consumes information – in chunks. Long-format is timeless but you have to be really good to pull it off. Best way to learn this: Do it a lot. Use Ulysses App, set your word count to 400 words and when the meter turns red, stop and think this may be the place where you’re going to lose your readers. How can you shape what you’ve already written to make your point better?
Share an idea in a few hundred characters
Understanding how to convey an idea in 140 characters is an key skill for sharing and engaging in a networked environment. If we intend to influence health behavior, public policy or even other physicians, we must master the art of microstyle. Best way to learn this: 1) Find a few great role models. 2) Watch. 3) Try it yourself and see what works.
Put an idea on a short video clip
This might include the basic elements of how to use an iPhone to film a clip. As physicians we all should know how to take a basic one minute clip made on a smart phone and upload it to a public platform. Why? Ask the pediatricians of the AAP who made the case for sustained Medicaid coverage amidst proposed reforms. Best way to learn this: Find someone who’s done it a lot and ask them to show you.
Understand the limitations of patient-specific dialog on public networks
This should be day one of medical school. Literally. This is the one thing that will potentially get you in trouble. Best way to learn this: Watch expert public physicians in action and then make a concerted effort to never discuss patient specifics in public.
Manage input and consumption of information
Information overload will represent this generations biggest challenge. Knowing what to listen to and how to access it represents a key network skill. This goes for everything from social networks to medical advancements. Best way to learn this: Listen to how highly productive digital citizens manage and balance their inputs. Study their tools and workflows.
Consider this a drill. Or exercise. What literacies do doctors need to function in 2025? And where did I go wrong? If you’re brilliant I’ll add your idea to the list.
Links to Amazon are affiliate links. Image is one I took from The Long Room in the library of Trinity College in Dublin.