Is the textbook dead?

I bought them all for my recent ACEM Fellowship exam. The “official” recommended texts, those recommended by colleagues, friends, websites etc. Basically almost every major Emergency Medicine textbook. I was assured by many that they were absolutely necessary, and that “you must read at least one of Tintinalli or Rosen cover to cover, at least once, and then read Dunn and Cameron to get the Australian perspective.”

I did no such thing. Don’t get me wrong, I tried. But textbooks are dead. At least, the old fashioned written-by-committee 5-10 years ago doorstop tome is dead. They are boring, out of date, inconsistent and inefficient to access. Some warn against the internet as a primary resource for such exams. I embraced it, and, hey, it worked for me. I know I was not alone in this. My approach to the exam, and to my clinical practice improved immeasurably thanks to the available web resources.

There are exceptions to the dead textbook rule. Neat, compact and accessible references that have a specific purpose are still extremely useful. For example, “The Toxicology Handbook” and such “how to” texts as “Examination Emergency Medicine” were invaluable for me, but I predict that in the future these will be entirely superseded by Web 2.0 resources with dynamic, evidence based and eminence reviewed content such as

The argument most trotted out in terms of preparing for exams is that the MCQs come directly from these texts. This too will surely change. If the “correct” answer is so fickle that only one or two books contain it and all dynamic web resources disagree with this “correct” answer, then it has no business being in an MCQ anyway, and the exams themselves should change, as they undoubtedly (albeit slowly) will.

I was once a Luddite. I was the last person in my university class to get a mobile phone. But now, with the “pull” approach to gathering knowledge provided by carefully managed use of social media and Web 2.0 resources (such as Twitter, Google Reader, blogs, podcasts etc.) I can truly say that keeping up to date with the dynamic field of Emergency Medicine is a fairly effortless and enjoyable process.

Being an old fashioned sort though, I still like having the books on my shelves, but if I need to look something up, the internet it is!


About dreapadoir

Emergency Physician, author of Emergency Medicine blog, photographer at
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4 Responses to Is the textbook dead?

  1. Andy Neill says:

    they may be obsolete but they do look, if not pretty, then at least very impressive. I own the oxford handbook of Accident & Emergency (that’s how old it is) and that’s it. I’d love a rosen’s or a tintanallis though

  2. Andy neill says:

    Training and research fund! *turns green
    with envy*

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