Leaders in Medical Education

Dr. Rashid Taher, DrSmarts

Osmosis Team
Aug 4, 2014

Dr. Rashid Taher is the co-founder of DrSmarts, a free and financially incentivized online learning platform for medical students and residents. Dr. Taher is also an ophthalmologist and a Diplomate of the American Board of Ophthalmology. His interest in open medical education caught our attention, and we were excited to speak with him about his medical career.

How did you decide on a career in medicine?

To some extent, I have been groomed to be a physician from my early days in school. My father is a pediatrician and when I was in elementary school I recall going on rounds with him to the hospital. Early on I was amazed by the impact a doctor has not only on his patients but on the extended family. And needless to say seeing my father caring for the most vulnerable in our society - children - and how he was able to interact with the parents has left a very impactful and lasting impression on me. It has made me appreciate not only the science of medicine but as importantly the art of our profession. We are very fortunate to be invited into the most intimate of psycho-social-physical issues that our patients deal with on a daily basis. And to be privileged enough to help them overcome some of their health impediments puts me in my father's shoes. I couldn't ask for a better place to be!

What made you choose ophthalmology as your speciality?

Simply put the quality of one's life is measured by his/her contribution. To be able to restore vision is a gift like no other. I recall while doing clinical rotations in medical school hearing patients without equivocation say that they would rather lose a limb or their life before losing their vision. And knowing each day I can contribute someway to someone by restoring or improving their vision is an incredible gift. Its been said that when you work to improve the lives of others your life improves automatically.

What was your inspiration for developing DrSmarts**?

Part of the apprenticeship of becoming a physician is internalizing the saying "see one, do one, teach one". We not only have to become expert in our fields respectively but we have to become teachers to our patients and next generation of physicians. If we are privileged enough to impart our knowledge to others and allow them to learn from our collective experiences we create a legacy for our profession. DrSmarts is an extension my desire to to impart knowledge and provide educational materials to students everywhere that are pursuing their dreams of academic and professional success.

Our platform is not only going to be for healthcare students but we will create a continuum of educational resources extending from Middle School to Post Graduate Education. We are working with our content partners and publishers to provide students with educational resources that will help them prepare for their standardized, entrance, and licensure exams. The costs and anxiety of test prep are growing. We are not looking to compete with the test prep services but rather provide students with a methodical and continuous exposure to quiz questions to help them reinforce what they are learning in the classroom and ultimately to succeed on their exams.

As co-founder of DrSmarts, what role you believe technology will play in changing medical education over the next few years?

Technology is evolving much faster than our educational system. Its not enough for us to replace the text book to a digital format. We need to harness the power of technology to minimize our need for wrote memorization particularly in the pre clinical years of medical school. Although its vital to learn the fundamentals, there really is going to be little need to spend as much time in the classroom "memorizing" minutia since our ability to recall the esoteric details will be at the tip of our hand -- be it on our smart phones or other wearable devices.

The real power of technology in the short and intermediate term is in the ability for students everywhere to learn either in real time collaboratively (virtual classrooms or rounds) or using educational tools to learn asynchronously. Technology will hopefully also drive down the cost of education and hopefully democratize the landscape so that students from all walks of life will have the ability to go to college or enter medical school without having the burden of debt play a factor in pursuing a particular discipline. There really is no excuse that the cost of a computer has gone down from 4000 dollars to 1000 dollars in the past 20 years but the cost of medical education has gone up 150-200% in the same period.

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What do you think is the biggest challenge facing medical students today?

Despite the many uncertainties inherent in our evolving healthcare system, students that are privileged enough to be in medical school will certainly be equipped to face the challenges ahead.

However, one of the very stark realities of our medical education system is that the average medical student debt has surpassed 160,000 dollars. Unfortunately this burgeoning problem weighs heavily on students' choices of post graduate training. We are seeing less and less primary care physicians since more students are being driven to the higher reimbursing specialties in order to pay back their debts.

** DrSmarts is an entirely free online educational resource to help students reinforce what they are learning in the class room as well as to help review materials in advance of exams. Students on a daily basis select topics to be quizzed on and then the students with the top points earned each week get rewards for their meritocracy. And monthly, we will be giving out more meaningful scholarships to the top point earners. Additionally for each quiz question answered correctly, DrSmarts will donate monies on behalf of the students to their pre selected charity or association. So the two basic tenants of the site are "learn to earn" and "learn to give".