Humility is key for physician educators

Clinician educators have the opportunity and responsibility to influence students, interns and residents.  While we can have some hubris in our education skills, we must always demonstrate humility in our patient care role modeling.

Dr. Orhan Muren, one of my early role models, often told us to never be “cocky” when taking care of patients.  As I recall his admonition, I realize that he was urging us to have true humility.

But what does humility really mean?  John Ruskin once wrote:

The first test of a truly great man is his humility. By humility, I don’t mean doubt of his powers or hesitation in speaking his opinion, but merely an understanding of the relationship of what he can say and what he can do.

By this, and many other definitions, humility refers to an accurate assessment of one’s strengths and weaknesses.  This accurate assessment leads to us admitting our deficiencies and using our strengths.

Becoming a physician is fraught with danger.  It is too easy to believe your “press clippings.”  Patients generally give us incredible respect.  Other health care workers often assume that we have complete knowledge.

But we are human.  We have strengths and weaknesses.  Only when we demonstrate the limits of our knowledge, do we give our learners an appropriate role model.

We have a responsibility to our patients and our learners to accurately assess our strengths and weaknesses.  When we know our limits, we know when we should ask for help.  Knowing our limits and demonstrating that to our learners should help them adopt the same attitudes.

We have a great responsibility to teach students, interns and residents that ignorance of our deficiencies is the greatest threat to our patients.  Accepting our deficiencies allows us to find someone who can address the issue for which we cannot answer.

Robert Centor is an internal medicine physician who blogs at DB’s Medical Rants.

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