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Failure #2 – Ignorance Is Not Bliss

by Helen Fosam

I had decided to throw in the towel after the collapse of the telemedicine medical education program in Nigeria. I had invested almost two years of my time and money with nothing to show for it, although the connections and friendships made were invaluable. Despite my disappointment, something within told me that giving up was not an option. I could not place the source of the drive, but all I can say is that it consumed me. I reflected on a medical emergency several years prior; I had taken my positive outcome for granted until I thought of a relative in Africa. Her situation was similar to mine, but her outcome was the opposite of mine. Although several factors may explain the differences in outcome, I believe that continuing medical education (CME) played its part. CME kept the medical team attending to me at the top of their game. The several published studies on the challenges of continuing medical education in Africa cemented my drive to bury my disappointment and try again. So I did.

Six months after I closed the file on the telemedicine project, I opened a new one aiming to implement some of the lessons I had learned. A key lesson I took away from my failure was that an idea needs a champion to bring it to fruition. The idea must be nurtured from the ground up, whether by an individual or a team. A bit like a seed, planted, watered, and tendered until the roots take hold and the plant flourish. I spent some time reflecting on what I could offer and how best to present that offering. At that time, I was creating content for CME, accredited for healthcare professionals in the United States. There I had my answer. To apply my more than a decade-long experience in the field to expand access to CME for healthcare professionals in Africa. Doing so would meet a need. Doing so would satisfy my desire to give back. But the critical question was, precisely how do I implement this idea?

My answer was an online CME course for healthcare professionals in Africa. An internet connection was the only requirement for access from the comfort of their local setting, at a time convenient to them. There is no need to travel to a physical location, saving valuable time and hard-earned cash. This would solve some of the access, cost, and time problems, which several published studies identified as barriers for healthcare professionals to participate in CME. The idea soon took hold in my head, and I explored it alone. The next step was actually to create the online course.

With the power of Google, I searched and found freelancers who sent me samples of their online course creation. Some looked like works of art, requiring maximum internet speed to display the elaborate interactivity built into the course. I was impressed. I commissioned one of the works of art, complete with a voice-over to explain what was going on. The finished course was delivered as planned, as a file uploaded straight to my laptop, and that’s where it stayed. This is when I should have sought some advice. But I did not. I had not thought about making my course and the several others in the works available to the thousands of healthcare professionals I wanted to reach. I had also not given any thought to my target audience’s internet speed and stability to access my courses. But I was ignorant of these technical details. I had no idea what questions I needed to ask and what advice I needed to seek.

The elaborate course on my laptop requiring maximum internet speed and bandwidth work perfectly well when the electricity does not fail and the internet is not temperamental. So when I traveled to Africa to present my idea and sample course to a contact, the course that would typically load at a snap of a finger took forever to open. When it eventually opened, the diagrams with moving parts and charts with floating numbers that would typically take their place on cue slowed to a halt. As for the voice-over, well, everything came out in slow motion. Let’s just say it was a disaster, including my failure to sell my idea convincingly. And that was just the beginning.

On my return, I gave my feedback to the freelancer. That’s when he asked me what LMS platform was hosting the course. And that’s when I just stared blankly in ignorance. I had no idea what he was talking about, let alone what an LMS is. I did not know that online courses need to be hosted on a Learning Management System platform. My freelancer offered to host the course for a tidy sum of money. I had to press the pause button to think things through. It would have been more money down the bottomless pit! Although I had learned important lessons from the failed telemedicine project about championing an idea and nurturing it from the ground up, I lacked several skills essential for the idea to succeed. It is possible to solve the technicalities of building an online course with the right team, but an idea does not sell itself. I did not have the skills to sell my idea. I needed to work on myself. So I threw in the towel, again, to focus on my comfort zone, my clients, and deadlines. So I thought.  

Helen Fosam is the founder of the Missing Link to Improved Health Outcomes (MiLHO) Initiative. The initiative focuses on creating online continuing medical education courses for healthcare professionals in Africa. We are currently beta-testing our pilot course on type 2 diabetes. Click here to subscribe and to access the free diabetes course.

A medical writer focusing on continuing medical education, Helen has roots in pre-clinical research, in academia as a faculty member, and in the healthcare sector as an R&D adviser. She holds a Ph.D. in Physiology from Sheffield University, UK, MSc in Biochemistry from Sussex University, UK, and BSc in Biochemistry from Kent University, UK.

The MiLHO Initiative emerged from a combination of a personal medical emergency, the role CME played in that emergency, and the realization that healthcare professionals’ access to and participation in CME is critical to evidence-based patient care and their optimal health outcomes. The mission of the MiLHO Initiative is to support healthcare professionals in Africa to access relevant and affordable CME in their local settings. Join us. Together, we can make a difference. Click here to subscribe, and then forward the link to your contacts.