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The Best Doctors Are Good Teachers

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As I sat in classes and lecture halls, I would make mental notes about which teaching styles I found effective and which were not. Teachers and professors who successfully grabbed our attention and taught us unforgettable pearls persist as fond memories; I attribute my inspiration and motivation to teach to them. As a new senior resident, I take any chance to teach the interns about medicine and get them acclimated to working as a new physician in the hospital.The word doctor originates from the Latin verb "docere," meaning “to teach.” Medical knowledge continues to expand exponentially; it is no wonder that the training to practice independently as a physician takes many years. Thus, it is essential that we frequently teach our junior colleagues and foster a safe learning environment for them.

During medical school, I volunteered as a clinical skills student preceptor, in which I taught physical exam maneuvers to junior medical students and observed their performance while providing feedback. It was joyful and rewarding to share pearls and to lightheartedly correct mistakes with the students.

Then, in my first inpatient ward rotation as an intern, I engaged a medical student by priming him to think about which relevant questions to ask before seeing the patient and performed the neurological exam with him. Later, I was pleasantly surprised to read this comment from my attending as part of my evaluation: “Despite our busy service, she had an impact on our third-year medical student as he commented that she was a ‘great teacher’ and helped him to improve his skills.”

Recently, as a new senior resident on an infectious disease rotation, I did my best to teach my interns the concepts about managing infections and provided tips for reviewing charts. My interns would ask questions that they called dumb. I would repeatedly remark they were not, as I remembered being in their shoes as a new intern. One of them then remarked that I was a good teacher. Hearing that brought me a lot of satisfaction and encouraged me to continue to engage others and share my experience and knowledge.

Allow me to share with you the qualities and tips that I believe make an excellent teacher:

Patience: Realize that each person learns at their own pace, that everyone comes from different backgrounds (which provided different learning experiences), and that everyone has bad days.

Be aware of your own emotions: Be professional and courteous to others, especially during stressful times — some are closely observing your behaviors. Don't lose your temper at people; they may not feel comfortable asking for your help in the future.

Give real-time, specific feedback: Provide praise (e.g., for strong work ethic and integrity) in front of others. Constructive feedback should be specific, given privately, and as soon as possible.

Nurture a safe, judgment-free learning environment: Be supportive and make the students feel comfortable. Establish rapport. Show vulnerability; admit that you have your own knowledge gaps.

Teach on the fly: Take any opportunity or downtime to pimp or quickly teach a topic. You can also prepare a teaching topic in advance (e.g., diabetes management, ACLS cases) that you can reuse for the future.

Of course, teaching others also makes me realize my own learning deficiencies. This pushes me to work on my weaknesses and helps me remember facts more accurately. After all, it was wisely stated by the French philosopher Joseph Joubert that “to teach is to learn twice.”

I am thankful for my favorite teachers. I feel fortunate to be in a career that highly values education and encourages life-long learning. As senior colleagues, we serve as role models and shape the culture of the younger generations of physicians. We shall continue to prioritize patient care, but we must also remind ourselves to continue to teach our juniors (and our patients) and cultivate that curiosity for knowledge.

Sarah Chiu is a second-year internal medicine resident at Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center. She hopes to incorporate teaching as a major part of her career.

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