How to prepare the future generation of physicians

With patients starting to become the point of care, the relationship between doctor and patient has moved into a more equal partnership. Digital technology is starting to play a more important role in medicine, and it is critical to prepare the future generation of physicians for what is to come and what they can expect for their careers. In this article, we look at the ways in which medical students will need to be educated for the future.

Profound changes in healthcare have been set in motion with the advancements of IT, digital tech, and social media channels. The ivory tower of medicine has started to crumble, and more and more people have access to medical knowledge from sources online, such as social media channels giving insight into other patients with similar symptoms. Online communities have the ability to empower patients and they are pushing for a better and more equal doctor-patient relationship. Patients are braver and they ask more questions, and they require a different kind of doctor-patient rapport than they needed before.

The development of digital health technologies is happening at lightning speed. The trend to create more and more small, digitized and connected medical devices for personal use is ever-growing. The use of portable diagnostic tools, medical drones, telemedicine, and 3D printing is pushing patients to become the point of care. These technologies will allow patients to measure their vital signs at home without the need to visit medical facilities. Healthcare is moving from the reactive to the preventative as we move towards direct-to-consumer genetic testing and the appearance of AI. The preventative tools are getting more efficient and generally better, and the expectation is that they will help to hinder the appearance of severe conditions.

Preparing the medical community for digital health

Medical professionals in the future may well prefer to get a job as a translator between the patient and the technical data. They could guide the patient through the paths of digital health as well as counsel them through their healthcare choices, rather than being the fountain of medical knowledge and the only decision-maker for their choice of treatment. The 21st century sees the old hierarchical patterns of the doctor-patient relationship as a thing of the past. The future generation of physicians will need to learn differently and be prepared for these scenarios, where the patient is on their level.

Aspiring physicians need to begin acquiring digital literacy in medical school. As healthcare moves towards this technology, it will become more difficult as time goes on. For them to achieve this, the medical community needs to be open to creating new ways to educate, and it also needs to change its Hippocratic Oath. We will look into this throughout this article. It isn’t uncommon to be adverse to changing old habits for the better. Therefore this aims at giving a handy toolkit approach to make the changes as smooth as possible.

We look at the key principles as to where education needs to be focused on the future generation of physicians.

1. First…digital literacy

The requirement to become digital literate is just as necessary as applying suncream when you are lying in the sun for a while. It will be required for medical students, physicians, and professors too. All those involved in the medical profession will need to be aware of how to search for, access, and assess the quality of information on the website they used. A basic skill that will also be necessary for future physicians is knowing how to empower patients.

The digital terrain is everywhere, and it is constantly changing. Therefore, it is paramount that everyone is familiar with the basics of digital, etc. It would also help the tech-savvy to stay abreast of changes and keep up to date with the ever-changing developments of the online health world.

2. Allow students to understand and embrace patient design

For a long time, the medical community has disregarded and left out the most important party for every huge decision made regarding healthcare; the patient. Medical students today should embrace and understand that the patient is the most important player. It doesn’t matter if it’s the development of a new drug, shaping the blueprint of a new medical facility, or designing a new treatment course of action, the patient should be involved.

Patients need to be involved on the advisory board of large pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and medical facilities. They should be included at conferences and medical events. Once students get used to this, especially when they learn it at med school, it will be easier when they are in the field.

3. Let students work with patients in education from the first day

Medical students should be around real patients from the beginning of their studies so that they can learn better from their experiences. They will have a much better grasp on a patients’ suffering and understand their way of thinking, such as how the patient might try to solve their own health problems with or without digital tech. Medical students need to be aware of the new fitness and health gadgets on the market and keep up to date with these trackables, wearables, and other digital health solutions. They can assist patients on a better level if they are familiar with the most recent innovations.

Teaching at the Dutch Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center already follows this principle, therefore helping medical students keep patients at arms reach.

4. Include patients in designing brainstorms via Makerspace-like workshops

Spilling over already into business life, the approach originally came from design. Hopefully, soon, involving patients will be common practice in medicine. The principle focuses on matching the patients’ needs with what is feasible with technology, and what is a viable business model. Perhaps a doctor has a good idea of how to enhance a treatment method, patient management, or a drug, with the help of tech, they may even be able to improve it by themselves. Students must be familiar with acting responsibly and taking initiative. There are DIY workshops available, like Makerspaces, that could let students gain the know-how to get from an idea to a solution. The workshops also help them work in teams and create something from beginning to end.

5. Allow them to use cutting-edge learning tools

There is so much variety in online learning tools, from quizzes, apps, TED talks, lectures on YouTube, etc. Medical school professors need to be aware of all the platforms to allow the students to see the profession through the advances in technology, as well as traditional teaching.

A good example is the Anatomage Table. This is the very first virtual dissection program which is excellent for teaching anatomy to students. It is an effortless tool that uses a Hololens mixed reality device to teach students about the human body. Some universities are already planning on introducing technology into their education plans. Some will see students learning anatomy through Hololens using virtual reality rather than using cadavers. It is the hope that more and more medical schools follow suit.

6. Showcase new technologies in the classroom

Familiarizing students with the tools that they will be using in the future once they have qualified is of utmost importance. Virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR), artificial intelligence, 3D printing, cheap genome sequencing, and robotics are all technologies that we are seeing in medicine today. Furthermore, the world of healthcare is changing quickly with changes in technology and social structures, and if medical professionals don’t jump on board the ship, it will leave them behind. It is critical for the medical students of today to learn about and try these new technologies, to have their own genetic test and discuss the results, and to see 3D printing, AI, and VR/AR in action.

7. Let them use the technologies their patients will use

Gaining credibility as a doctor is crucial. You simply can’t tell a patient to go and live a healthy life if you are lazy like a couch potato and smoke like a chimney in front of the TV every night. Medical students should try out new wearables, fitness trackers, and health apps so that they are able to recommend them to patients.

If a physician is familiar with health and fitness technology, it will also be much easier to grasp their patients’ questions and concerns about them. And they will see that the recommendations aren’t just the result of a medical company’s sales tactics.

8. Lecturer-student is a partnership, just like physician-patient

The hierarchy relationship of the patient-doctor is no longer as it used to be, with the shift more towards an equal-level partnership. The same could happen with the rapport between lecturer-student. It is not always the case that the professor is the fountain of all knowledge, on the contrary, they also learn from students and use critical feedback to improve. Professors need to be approachable and available for students to ask questions, and also be open to constructive criticism too.

9. Gamify processes, even exams

This isn’t to say that revising, memorizing, and using age-old pearls of wisdom are not genuinely feasible ways of gaining medical knowledge. However, using gamification scenarios could help to make learning more productive and fun. And, why not have fun while studying? There are many methods of gamification available that break away from traditional learning techniques.


There isn’t a one size fits all education method for teaching the future generation of physicians. But through the different methods outlined above, it is critical that the medical students of today become more in touch with the patient, learn about new technologies, and keep abreast of emerging digital health tech in development.


Humanitas is a highly specialized Hospital, Research and Teaching Center. Built around centers for the prevention and treatment of cancer, cardiovascular, neurological and orthopedic disease – together with an Ophthalmic Center and a Fertility Center – Humanitas also operates a highly specialised Emergency Department.