Thursday, June 6, 2013

Information overload and the veterinarian

My friend Glenn's inbox. The man does nothing by halves, but he never gets to the bottom of the pile.

Its hard to switch off in the digital age, and one thing we have to cope with increasingly - everyone does - is information overload. I read this passage from a book called Finding Balance in Medical Life by the late Dr Lee Lipsenthal.

(NB Dr Lipsenthal died in 2011 from oesophageal cancer. His website remains  active with some interesting links).
“In the 1940s there were three major medical journals in the United States: all three were monthly subscriptions, two of which were newsletters. Keeping up with the literature meant pouring yourself a cup of coffee on a Sunday, sitting in your comfy chair, and reading for an hour. Since that time, the volume of medical literature has grown exponentially. More research is being done worldwide, and it is more accessible than in the past. In addition, the average physician receives multiple journals, including throwaway journals, weekly. It is impossible to keep up with the literature anymore, yet when we see the overwhelming pile next to the bed, we feel incompetent as physicians and scientists. After all, we were told ‘if you don’t keep up with the literature, you are not enough’. One colleague of mine was told, ‘if you don’t keep up with the literature, people will die’. What a ridiculous guilt trip. This creates anxiety and frustration for us all. It hits one of our shared personality traits smack in the face – perfectionism.” P18.
Doesn't that sound adorably cosy! (Not the bit about people dying - the bit about sitting down with a cuppa on Sunday morning and being "current" an hour later. Maybe with a cat on one's lap?)

I think the big mistake we make is to even consider bring on top of current literature possible...and it isn't just journals. Conferences, symposia, websites, lectures, webinars, social media etc. etc. Information is proliferating and so much of it is actually helpful...but we are finite creatures!

So I am interested to hear, from vets and non-vets alike, how do you cope with masses of information? How do you "keep up" with the literature?


  1. We don't. We need better filters. For everything. It's a chaos out there. Everywhere.

  2. Unfortunately vet students' (and any kind of student) attention is often being taken over by the advent of social media that alerts us to the latest news in the world, in addition to encouraging, nay, subliminally pressuring us to keep up with important social circles..If one is a vet student in Australia, in addition to having groups for one's year cohort and keeping up to date with happenings in your very degree, they might want to keep up with news about the industry they will be entering, yet merely reading through the articles posted sometimes HOURLY on each of these networks is nothing short of chaotic - one might be a member of FB groups such as "Australian Veterinary Network", or "Australian Veterinarians in Public Health", "Sentient, The Veterinary Institute for Animals Ethics", or "Veterinary Employment and Locum Network" "AVA Students", etc, which would result in hourly notifications from each of these - and, in addition to reading the respective comments, scanning these pages and becoming engrossed in the latest articles can end up consuming hours on end. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that most students find it difficult not to be drawn into social media, it has become an essential part of our daily lives, and this article describes the ensuing overload experienced, largely attributed to "FOMO"(fear of missing out)..perhaps this is way off base, but I thought some parallels could be drawn re exhaustion!:

    ..I guess to relate it back to the original qn of how does one keep up with the literature? Perhaps it is not physically possible, but in the case of students, one thing this article suggests is that it could be made more feasible by removing the noise that is created by our regular use of social media such as FB/Twitter..?

  3. Hi absolutely feel for you. And I also appreciate the irony that this very blog could be contributing to the white noise you talk about.

    When I went to uni (which was not so long ago...really...) we didn't have Facebook...or it wasn't used like it is now. Google was something we were introduced to by our librarian in first year. There was no Twitter, and people emailed one another occasionally. Even texting was not so prevalent as it was still quite expensive. Things have changed so that in addition to all the things we should be focusing on, this additional material constantly interrupts us. Developing filtering tools is absolutely necessary. I delete non-essential emails and try to call people rather than text (sometimes a two minute conversation is more productive than a ten text exchange which interrupts whatever you are doing for an hour or two).

    And I really do see the need for phone and internet free time...there has to be time when one logs off. The nice thing about blogs is that you can visit once a week, catch up on the week's worth of posts and be done (if you so desire).

    FOMO is something we need to conquer, but I am not sure how. Very thought provoking. (btw I am guessing it is exam time for you may be procrastinating. In the pre-Facebook/social media era we did that too, but mostly by phoning a friend or going to a advice is to work in timeslots eg twenty minutes, which are web and phone free, where you just answer a past paper question etc).

  4. Further to the last comment, the Sydney Morning Herald ran a feature about FOMO (or FoMO) as they spell it. Its an active area of research. How about that!!!


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