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Nikki Abela: The Power of FOAM


Nikki Abela is an emergency medicine registrar with a special interest in paediatrics. At DFTB17, she talked about her experience as part of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine (RCEM) Learning team. The college has taken great strides in adopting new technologies to enhance the members’ learning experience – using blogs, podcasts and web-based curriculum tools.

Medical professionals thrive in the right environment. Just as a sunflower needs sunlight and water to flourish, humans require conducive surroundings to reach their full potential. In medicine, the FOAM (Free Open Access Medical Education) movement has transformed the learning landscape for healthcare practitioners.

The Journey of a Pediatric Emergency Medicine Trainee

Nikki Abela, then a pediatric emergency medicine trainee from Liverpool, took the stage at DFTB17 to share her inspiring journey into the world of FOAM. She emphasized the importance of the learning environment, drawing parallels between the needs of sunflowers and the needs of medical professionals. Just as sunflowers thrive in the right conditions, medical practitioners excel in an environment that promotes learning and collaboration.

The Role of the Right Environment

Companies like Google invest in office environments that enhance productivity, recognizing that the physical surroundings greatly impact employees’ performance. Nikki shared her visit to Google’s office, complete with nap pods and even dogs at work. While these perks might seem extravagant, they underline the significance of the right environment for fostering creativity and productivity.

The Power of FOAM

Nikki introduced FOAM as a transformative movement in medical education. FOAM stands for Free Open Access Medical Education, changing how medical professionals access and share knowledge. FOAM is free, online, and educational, but it’s not just about access to information; it’s about creating an interactive and engaging learning experience.

FOAM differs from traditional medical education in its approach. It encourages open dialogue, promotes discussions, and often incorporates an element of entertainment. Medical professionals interact with FOAM content on social media platforms, primarily Twitter, where they engage in discussions and share insights.

RCEM Learning: A Beacon of FOAM

Nikki introduced RCEM Learning (formerly RCEM Foamed), an initiative by the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in the UK. RCEM Learning is a shining example of FOAM in action. Their website,, offers a blend of traditional reference sections, exams, and continuing professional development (CPD) resources alongside FOAM content. Nikki serves as the blog editor, contributing paediatric-focused content to the platform.

Building a FOAM Community

FOAM isn’t just about consuming content; it’s about contributing and building a community. Nikki highlighted the importance of the FOAM community in her journey. The editorial board of RCEM Learning, her “family of friends,” discusses education and important topics. This community provides support, constructive criticism, and valuable connections.

FOAM as a Tool for Personal Growth

Nikki emphasized that FOAM has been instrumental in her personal growth. FOAM allows professionals to surround themselves with like-minded individuals, irrespective of time or geography. It fosters an environment where actions and ways of thinking become infectious, driving continuous improvement.

Balancing FOAM with Professional and Personal Life

The question often arises: What are medical professionals sacrificing by dedicating time to FOAM? Nikki and other speakers at DFTB17 stressed the importance of focusing on professional hobbies, creating a niche, and leveraging FOAM content in multiple formats.

In medical education, FOAM is a powerful force for change. It offers free and accessible knowledge, encourages collaboration, and builds strong communities. Nikki Abela’s journey exemplifies the potential of FOAM to transform medical education and personal growth. As medical professionals, embracing FOAM is essential, leveraging it as a tool for continuous learning and improvement. Doing so can collectively drive the advancement of healthcare and patient care.

The power of FOAM is undeniable, and its potential is limitless. So, are you ready to harness the transformative power of FOAM in your medical journey? Join the FOAM community, contribute, and let it be your guiding light toward excellence in healthcare.

If you don’t want to take notes, then Grace Leo has done it for you.

Nikki has also recorded a podcast about her experience at DFTB17 which you can catch via the RCEM Learning website.

If you want our podcasts delivered straight to your listening device then subscribe to our iTunes feed or check out the RSS feed. Please embrace the spirit of FOAMed and spread the word.

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