I recently gave a teaching workshop focused on giving feedback. Thrilled to share my passion for medical education, I excitedly prepared my slides, ready to discuss tools that can help make someone a more effective educator.
Despite the evidence and the recommendations from well-known educators I presented, there was an attendee that was dubious. The inevitable question arose, “But, why?” Why, this person asked, take the time to give feedback when my first priority is to take care of patients? Why, when I have so many other commitments? Why, when I am drowning in emails and administrative work, and I also want to get home to my family?
It’s a fair question. Clearly, the introduction to my talk — why teaching skills are important — just didn’t cut it when it came down to answering the question.
As is the case in so many circumstances, the well-crafted answer came much later to me. However, it’s tardiness did not demean its importance, nor the urgency I felt that this message be communicated. Why is it so important for every single one of us to be invested in our trainees? Why should we care beyond their medical knowledge? Why should we face the discomfort of giving feedback? Why should we discuss with them their bedside manner? Or their leadership skills (or lack thereof as the case may be)? My response to this line of questioning can be summed up in 2 key reasons.
1. Affect one, or affect many? Treating patients as a physician is the reward for many years of education and training. When one treats a patient, there is satisfaction in reaching the ultimate goal — to positively affect that person’s life — whether that be in the form of improving prognosis, reading an X-ray film, alleviating suffering, or a number of other ways that physicians positively affect patients.
But what if you could multiply that act? What if, instead of affecting that one patient, you could turn your actions into a positive change for numerous patients? Therein lies the power of medical education.
When a medical educator takes the time to counsel a learner about the nuances of medicine — something as seemingly small as how to establish rapport with a patient — that educator can affect the way hundreds of patients are treated thereafter by that learner. That conversation may not be so insignificant after all.
However, just as we know is the case with all things, we must take heed to the opposing side of such a responsibility. We also must respect the fact that our negative actions affect our learners. As an example, think of a physician demonstrating frustration and negativity towards other healthcare workers. While to some, this attitude may seem valid and acceptable, remember that the outcome of our learners observing this behavior is a pervasive belief that it is just. Considerably more productive is modeling a mindset of teamwork and appreciation for all team members. A team working together for the benefit of patients is much more effective than a group divided.
Do we, as physicians, truly understand the impact of affecting not just one patient, but many? Every investment of time and every effort in positive role modeling in medical education does just that.
2. Investment in medicine. Medicine as a profession is a noble calling. With medicine, physicians have both the security of a requisite profession, as well as the privilege of caring for others.
However, the art of medicine cannot perpetuate without those who invest in it. Just as any skill, the art of medicine must be studied, practiced and improved upon. For this art to continue from generation to generation, there must be a group of individuals who invest in the learners of this craft. This group of individuals are the medical educators.
Every practicing physician is a product of the investment of medical educators. There is undoubtedly a combination of both positive and negative experiences in one’ training. But each experience was formative to that physician’s practice of medicine.
Do we, as a medical community, understand the importance and the gravity of such an investment in our profession? Do we, as individuals, understand that we are training the same physicians that will one day care for us? Does our community understand that medical education trains our leaders of medicine for tomorrow?
When we pose these types of questions, perhaps it becomes more clear that the investment in medical education is essential. It truly is an investment — one of time, money and effort. However, we must all recall that each of us is a product of medical educators, without whom we could not be part of this noble calling.
So, to the fair and honest question posed by so many busy physicians regarding medical education, “Why?” please remember two things: Don’t just affect one, but affect many; and recognize the time-honored tradition of passing on a skill, and the investment of those who ensure the perpetuation of our noble profession — an investment each of us has benefited from in our own training.
Perhaps next time when I give a teaching workshop, my well-crafted answer will be ready at the helm.
Melanie Sulistio is a cardiologist.
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