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An Advice Blog Inflicted Upon the Innocent by Prolific Readers

We’re sometimes asked how we read so much. To some degree, it’s a habit acquired early. Like most physicians, we both acquired a love for reading early in life. Of course, there was a time during medical school and residency when our reading habits were drastically altered. Like all medical students, the study of medicine consumed us, and other interests were necessarily curtailed.

But all things end, and the end of residency meant a gradual return to earlier habits of reading. We both began to read again the sorts of things that interested us in addition to, or perhaps complementary to, medicine. Like many of us, we found our journals stacking up at the bedside, often unread and left us feeling so behind. (Now some of the print copies are gone and the e-Table of Contents just clog our e-mail to remind us when we’re behind).

Through trial and error over the years, we both developed a system and some habits that have worked for us. Let us share them with you recognizing that our approach may not work for you. If you’re like us, you may sometimes find the volume of reading to be overwhelming. These are some strategies that may prove helpful. Keep what works for you; discard what doesn’t.

The Y|K Reading System and Habits (Yost|Kolade)  

Professional Journals

For almost forty years, Yost has made it a point to read three of what he considers the primary journals in his discipline – the “basic three.” When he tried to read more, he often failed. These three journals are recognized as high impact journals, although he has dropped one and added another as his professional interests evolved. Kolade aimed to read one journal regularly in residency, and since then has done sporadic journal article reading to solve clinical and educational project riddles, for McMaster Online Rating of Evidence (MORE) reviews or for CME, i.e. more of a targeted approach.


·        Set timelines for reading the professional journals you’ve chosen either in print or online.  Set a timeline and stick to it to ensure that you read regularly and effectively.

·        Read the journal’s review articles and abstracts of every article; read the entire article only for those that are of particular personal interest or relevant to the patients you see.

·        Don’t allow journals to accumulate. If you haven’t read any given issue in four weeks, to the recycle/e-trash bin it goes.

·        Supplement journals with some additional self-study plans that serve as an on-going review of your discipline, including board review courses, systematic updates, etc.

The Habits that make this system (usually) successful:

1)     Set a specific time aside for reading every day – or at least on weekends. Early morning?  Late evening? Set aside at least an hour or two if you can. Note over time as children grow and responsibilities at home decrease, you can slowly reallocate more time to reading.  Start now. Make it a habit to read and set aside times to do so.

2)     Read broadly. We are members of a humane profession. Given the breadth and the depth of medical literature published, we are at risk of becoming little more than technicians if we don’t think and read broadly. Yost has always encouraged his residents and students to read outside of medicine (philosophy, history, literature, and current events) to maintain that broad interest in humanity. Kolade provides books he has read to willing students and co-workers.

3)     Read several books at any given time. As this is written Yost is in the middle of a brief work on philosophy, toward the end of a history of the Second World War, and just beginning a detective novel. Kolade is in the midst of a Compassionomics book review for an upcoming blog. Variety is good for us. It keeps us fresh.

4)     Ditch a “bad” book. Give yourself permission to stop reading something if it fails to maintain your interest. Why waste your time on something that proves to be uninteresting, poorly written, or so dense that it’s difficult to follow the plot or the argument? Life is too short.

5)     Take advantage of technology. There are a vast number of books and journals available in an audio format, in addition to podcasts, review materials, etc. Time spent in the gym, commuting or driving can become your “reading time”.

That’s it. We wish you well in your reading and in all things.