The Power of Storytelling

By Heather Guerrero, Associate Director, Independent Medical Education, Gilead Sciences, Inc; Scott Weber, CEO and Director, Med-IQ, LLC and Advocacy Committee Chair

Story is the substance of human experience. It is how we make meaning, how we communicate, how we construct our identities and it is also how we learn. We are constantly engaging in story — about ourselves, our day, our jobs. At this conference, we focused on the CME, CPD, and CE Value story with a request for participants to think about how we tell the value story within our own organizations.

The idea for this theme came out of the previous year’s CBI West conference through a workshop on the value of CPD. The objective was to help the attendees connect with others in their same sector to tell the value story within their organization. As we introduced ourselves everyone ended up telling their story of improving the understanding of CPD in their organizations. Through the act of storytelling, we illustrated the power of this in learning.

What are the barriers to others hearing the CPD value story? How do we promote and improve the value of CPD conversation through story? A great example of the power of story lies in the Why We Matter campaign developed by the Advocacy Committee last year. Follow the link above to experience the stories from the CPD enterprise. Use them in your organization to motivate your teams, connecting them with the true value they have within this industry.

At CBI West this year, the keynote speaker was John Sundy, a physician, former director of CME at Duke University, and current VP at Gilead Sciences. He opened the conference with a story: It started with guidelines for gout, led to a discussion on a 30-year time period where physicians were not prescribing the correct medications, and ended with the impact that this had on patients. He called this a story about the absence of CPD. He went on to challenge us as CPD professionals to ask the question: For your learners, where does learning take place? How can you make CPD happen where learning happens? What is the story of those learners’ lives and how can you make CPD more accessible to them, and their increasing demands, on their time?

We had a professional storyteller tell some great stories to prep the attendees for the next session, a workshop on storytelling and its relationship to CPD. This resulted in an incredibly powerful session in which individuals shared with the group their own story when the healthcare system let them or their loved ones down. From misdiagnosis to lack of adherence to guidelines to a lack of education on the part of the healthcare team, these stories illustrated the power of storytelling.

As a direct tie-in to why stories work, Jere Thomas’s talk focused on neuroscience and learning, the nuts and bolts of our brains’ neurotransmitters and neurons, and what science can tell us about how people learn best — when we have certain neurochemicals firing. There are four key components to increase learning based on science. For example, “Making learning a greater social experience (e.g., learning from best practices through storytelling) in some way may be a key to improve learning effectiveness.” We also learned very practical tips like there needs to be some interruption in learning every 20 minutes; it could be a stretch, a pause for reflection on a specific question, a group exercise — anything to give the brain a little boost to enable it to learn and facilitating retention.

We learned about Technology Enhanced Learning Mentoring Support (TELMS) as a way to aid the outcomes story in CPD, technology, and how it can help us tell the value story in a different way, as well as generational learning and how that may be a story we want to discontinue telling. The conference ended with the patient storytelling and how to incorporate that into our CPD programs.


  1. “Learning that Lasts Through the AGES” Dr. Lila Davachi, Dr. Tobias Kiefer, Dr. David Rock and Lisa Rock
  2. Charles Johnson.
  3. Jere Thomas, LCSW ACC. President, Sage Resources. Original article pg 3
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