Whoa! Did You Feel That?

Apr 9, 2013, 9:00 AM

Michael Painter, JD, MD, is a senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and an alumnus of the RWJF Health Policy Fellows program. This post originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas Blog.


Have you read “The Swerve,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by renowned historian Stephen Greenblatt? In it a canny Renaissance era book hunter discovers and releases knowledge in the form of a medieval, controversial poem lost to posterity. The poem had dwindled down to a single handmade, leather-bound version held behind the vine-covered, ancient walls of an Italian monastery. According to Greenblatt, the unleashing of that book changed everything that came after. That small book with the long poem on the nature of things set in motion forces that challenged the status quo and triggered dramatic, world-wide change—a swerve. The only way that knowledge survived the millennia was because monks trained in hand crafting books had carefully copied the one survivor—and saved it for centuries.

Last week, the Khan Academy, AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation may not have triggered quite such a momentous unleashing—but this powerful collaboration did start something very interesting with potentially significant implications for health care education.

Khan—a free online educational platform that provides self-paced, mastery-based education—will be the launching pad for what will become a complete, free knowledge-base for health care education. It will start with pre-medical preparation for the MCAT but perhaps one day soon encompass all didactic parts of medical education. That seems important.

Currently, those who wish to partake of that knowledge must get someone’s approval or pay somebody a fee or climb some other wall to get to it. The vision for this collaboration: anyone, anywhere in the world with access to a computer and an Internet connection may have, receive and learn this previously precious material.

The next baby step toward that vision is this week’s call to emerging leaders in medicine—current medical students and residents who love to teach, want to share this knowledge broadly and are, let’s be frank, good at making online teaching videos. Khan, AAMC and RWJF will run a national competition looking for just those kinds of leaders. The lucky 10 winners will then have the opportunity to go to a Khan-led video boot camp to hone their craft—and increase their “swerve-induction” credentials.

If you are such an emerging leader—or know one—take a look at this incredible opportunity. If you’re like me, you definitely will want to be there at the very beginning when this health care knowledge starts to break free and change everything.

The deadline for video submissions is June 14. Learn more about the contest rules and instructions.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.