NATIONAL REPORT — The concept of distance learning is closing the gap between cosmetic surgeons' hectic schedules and the imperative to stay up-to-date on new procedures and techniques. National Cosmetic Network (NCN) CEO William M. Mays defines distance learning as "any learning function where the end user and the content provider aren't in the same place at the same time." Clearly, today's increasingly sophisticated communications technology is the engine driving the distance-learning phenomenon.
DEMONSTRATION DOWNLOAD "Up until relatively recently, learning has basically been limited to hands-on, face-to-face sessions or meetings," says Mr. Mays, whose Plano, Texas-based organization, in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins Continuing Medical Education program, produces and distributes instructional videos on a wide variety of surgical techniques and procedures. "Technology has evolved to the point that very detailed instructional material can be delivered via Internet video streaming, CDs and DVDs, among other media vehicles," he says. "The videos can be used in an individualized manner, where the end-user receives a DVD or downloads the material from a Web site, or they can be built for groups via satellite downlink at a medical facility or professional meeting for instance." For James H. Carraway, M.D., professor and chairman of the Division of Plastic Surgery at Eastern Virginia Medical School, distance learning is a boon to plastic surgeons, many of whom can ill afford the time (and in some cases, the money) to travel to meetings or symposia in order to pursue requisite CME credits — or simply to keep themselves current on new procedures and trends. Now they have an option.
"I was going through the product catalog for 2007-08 for the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, specifically looking at distance-learning materials," Dr. Carraway tells Cosmetic Surgery Times . "One vehicle which is used is customized slide presentations on CD or DVD that include a whole host of topics from restoring body contour after weight loss to facial rejuvenation to breast augmentation." In addition, he says, there are live recorded DVDs available, originating from the 2005 Aesthetic Surgery meeting, such as The Top 10 Most Popular DVDs in 2005. "There are many other topics available," he reports, "and these are very important for some in the distance-learning category. Additionally, we're able to access the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery online and even do CME testing for some of the articles featured in the Aesthetic Surgery Journal."POINT-AND-CLICK CME Elizabeth Sadati Bernard, a New York-based consultant to the aesthetic surgery industry and executive editor of the Aesthetic Surgery Journal, concurs that the Internet has streamlined the process by which plastic surgeons can obtain CME credits. "Doctors used to have to read our journal articles, take the test on a form in the magazine, rip the form out and fax or mail it in," she says. "Now it can all be done on online." Ms. Bernard adds that in the future, distance-learning videos like those described by Dr. Carraway will increasingly be included as elements of the online journal. However, she adds that no matter how convenient these high-tech media are, they are not intended to replace face-to-face, hands-on learning. "Distance learning in aesthetic surgery, whether it's via an online journal or viewing a video, is not designed to take the place of personal interaction and hands-on clinical training," she says, "It is, though, an extremely valuable adjunct to other learning modalities, both for young physicians seeking wide exposure to new ideas and for more experienced physicians who want to further refine their techniques." Dr. Carraway agrees."I see this as simply adding on layers of information to a subject that someone has already looked into, observed or actually done," he notes. "Having said that, I think all areas of instruction are suited for distance learning if you apply the principle of adding layers to your information. If you see one surgeon doing a procedure, you have some depth. But if you have DVDs of other surgeons performing this particular procedure, you begin to understand some of the nuances of the procedure."