What the FOAMed? 9 great free accessible online resources for your medical education

Posted on 17 May 2013 by Jimmy Yan (Meds 2015)

So let’s cut to the chase. Sometimes classroom learning doesn’t cut it. Whether you just don’t like lectures or one particular subject doesn’t translate well onto the class note PDFs, you’re going to want additional resources. And let’s face it, textbooks? That’s so 2001, or earlier. Why pay hundreds of dollars to access information that may already be outdated by the time it’s printed?

That’s what I thought.

One of the hottest topics in higher education is the concept of Open-Access, which boils down to free access (via a series of tubes the Internets!) to scholarly information, with the hopes of reducing the barriers to entry for higher education. This can be done through e-learning, open course ware, and free information technology tools. It’s moved to the point where there are databases of online course materials that provide free access to courses from hundreds of universities (some from world class ones like Carnegie Melon, NYU, MIT, and Yale). Another example would be how the province of British Columbia is offering a wide range of full textbooks online for free.

Without a doubt this trend would catch on in the world of Medical Education. In June 2012, this concept of open access medical resources manifested in the movement known as FOAMed.

So FOAMed (or FOAM, or #FOAMed on Twitter) is the movement for Free Open-Access Medical Education (or Meducation). It is best explained here on the Emergency Medicine blog Life in the Fast Lanebut if you just want the TL;DR or are adverse to link clicking, the short summary is that it is the movement to make medical education available for anyone, anywhere, at anytime (Which is the first line on the Life in the Fast Lane link). It combines any and all forms of information/mobile technology to pass on this knowledge, from blogs, YouTube channels, podcasts, and websites to provide this education.

Now one of the difficulties with accessing widespread online resources is knowing where to start. I mean this is the Interneta huge and untamed land that expands endlessly. Where to start? 

Well I’m by no means an expert but I figure I’d share a few of the resources I like to use these days. By no means are these the only ones available, but they are my starting point. I definitely encourage you to try spending an hour or so looking around for your own favourites.

And now, in no particular order, my favorite online med-ed resources.

1) Quiz.md – This is an online peer-made and reviewed database of questions and cases. Med students, residents, and attendings all contribute to the generation and review of these questions. Includes questions from all medical specialties and it’s all available to you with a simple registration. It’s a great way to keep sharp and just test yourself every now and then. The only downside is that because the database is so extensive and it’s run by volunteers, some questions aren’t curated quickly enough and do not provide explanations in some instances. Still a great way to test your knowledge. Also, props for being a Canadian based resource – started by the University of Alberta.

2) The Skeptic’s Guide to Emergency Medicine – Another piece of Canadian content, this site (also known as TheSGEM) comes from the hard work of Dr. Ken Milne, an emerg doc from South Western Ontario (Western pride woot woot). This site provides quickly podcasts geared to provide the most recent and up-to-date findings in Emergency medicine. I love how the podcasts address clinical cases, they are short and easy to follow when I’m working out or walking to class, and the website has a bunch of additional resources to boot.

3) Surgery 101 – A third Canadian podcast site, again from the University of Alberta, Surgery101 comes courtesy of the UofA Division of General surgery and covers the basics of surgery for the medical student/clinical clerk. Any one interested or just trying to survive their surgical rotation should subscribe to this or download the app. Good information, and technically well done. (the app requires a small payment of about $1 Cdn…still a great deal!)

4) The University of Maryland’s EKG Video series – I have an admission, I’m really bad at reading EKGs. So this is a focus of mine when I’m trying to learn on my own end. This Tumblr updates regularly (~1/week) to provide Youtube video EKG cases for you to go over. Once again, a good review for those wanting more about EKGs (more of that to come).

5) Life in the Fast Lane – The founder of FOAM, so I have to mention this site. An awesome comprehensive resource, full of cool clinical cases, EKG libraries (again, a much desired resource for me), online quizzes, a resource library, medical images database, and even a collection of cool Osler quotes. You definitely can spend a lot of time on this website, it’s a veritable self-directed learning treasure trove.

6) The Calgary Guide for Understanding Disease – This is a still in progress project, but I really like where it’s going. From the UCalgary medical school, this guidebook is a student made and faculty reviewed website that provides schematic maps of the various disease processes categorized by body system. If you like mind maps or idea diagrams it’s a great resource, you can follow how the pathophysiology leads to particular presentations of the disease. It shows promise to be a great resource for self-study and review.

7) OpenLabyrinth cases – There are only a few of them, but they are fun. I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid, and these cases offer that in the context of clinical decision making using virtual patients. The cases are complex and offer a lot of things to consider at each stage; you need to spend a good deal of time with each case because your decisions are pretty significant with the final outcome of the case.  My favorite feature of this is the ability to review the pathway of steps/decisions/choices you made along the way of the case, it’s away to review how your decisions impacted the virtual patient’s care in the end. I can’t wait to see more of these to pop up.

8) Learnpediatrics.com – Created by med students at UBC, this site offers reviews on how to approach the common clinical problems or manifestations of disease in the pediatric population. The site also offers videos to understand how to perform various clinical examinations. It’s easy to navigate, read through, and delivers what it stands for: giving you the chance to review and learn pediatrics.

9) Ves Dimov’s case blog – A collection of medical cases and clinical information provided by an Internist from the University of Chicago’s medical school. The cases are organized by systems and are written in a proper clinical presentation format (i.e. how a clerk/med student is expected to present a history/physical exam on a patient they had just seen to their team). It’s a great way to learn how to understand various conditions, but also how to organize one’s clinical approach and presenting a workup and plan.

Yes, I know, I stopped one short of a nice even 10. But you know what, sometimes life doesn’t work that way and you get lists that don’t end in multiples of 5.

That said, if you feel a need to complete this list to 10 resources, why don’t you drop a comment with your own favourite FOAMed resource for self-directed learning. I would definitely like to find more help learning antibiotics and treatments to infectious disease, so bonus internet points for anyone who can bring me something along those lines.**

[Editor’s note: being a lover of multiples of 5, I will contribute one of my favourite websites]

10) Sketchy Medicine – A blog dedicated to illustrating simple medical knowledge through pictures. I found it very useful to make somethings stick. I don’t actually use it for anatomy learning, since there are so many great atlases out there (Ali does a very good job with it and MSK anyway). Instead, I found it very helpful  for other concepts that often need some pictures to become easier to remember…. such as intracranial hemorrhages, and special physical exams for cardiac murmurs. Sometimes, I find myself just scrolling through the (vast number of) posts to remind myself of what I have forgotten.

[End editor’s note]

**Note: bonus internet points have no cash or monetary value of any sorts. Sorry. 


Image source: http://oikosjournal.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/open-access.jpg

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