Last Friday I had the privilege of leading our resident education session. We spent 2 hours together learning how to become better educators. I say ‘we’ because, despite being in medical education for the last 12 years, I still have a lot to learn about teaching.
I think for a long time I bought into the myth that anyone can teach. And that anyone can be an excellent teacher. Like once you have mastered a subject, let’s say addition, that you will be great at teaching addition. Well, you’re not. Or at least I’m not. I can distinctly remember my oldest child attending preschool and being sent home with a packet of sight words. Until that time I had no idea how children would get from having a cry or smile as the only method of communication to speaking, reading and writing complex words. Thankfully my child’s teacher knew the path. In fact, her 2nd and 3rd grade teachers have more experience teaching than I have in being alive. They knew where she had been and where she was headed in her educational journey. And her 4th grade teacher will as well.
I teach adult learners. Medical students and residents. Medical Education is wonderful and also amazingly challenging. When a new 3rd year medical student begins with us they have literally spent about 25 hours per week in the classroom in addition to the dozens of hours a week they spend studying in the library. They soak up all the knowledge you give them. They are early in their journey toward their final career goals and eager to learn all that medicine has to offer. They want to know their patients and help create tangible positive outcomes for them. My residents spend even more hours at work and in the learning environment than the medical students. They are responsible for patient care as well as a huge chunk of the medical student education as well as making sure they learn all they can before leaving the training environment. It’s a lot to accomplish.
What I have learned in medical education is that being a teacher is a huge responsibility. It isn’t enough for me to have passion for the subject matter. I have to translate that passion into meaningful experiences and into a format they can understand and retain. It means more than just making sure the medical students know the basics about caring for women; it means that we have taught them how to have respect for their patients, to care deeply for the broken and hurting around them and to find a way to always have compassion. The challenges come when you are consumed with your own work and you find it hard to stop and teach someone else.
I think this is a challenge for everyone in education. Teaching is hard. Being an excellent teacher is even harder. For me, I stay in the Medical Education environment through the struggles because I remember the faces of the teachers that taught me empathy and compassion, because I still have a lot to learn and those medical students and residents challenge me daily to be better than my best, and because I hope that my community and my state are healthier and better cared for through the work we do in our teaching institution.
Hug a teacher you know. Hug all the teachers you know. Or bring them a snack or send them a note of encouragement. They leave each day having given all they can to some who will receive and some who might not. They are not only teaching subject matter they are often teaching the life lessons of respect, empathy, compassion and kindness even when their own runs low. They are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. They are caring in places many of us would not dare to invest.
And if you know a medical student or a resident physician, give them a hug too. Or maybe a cup of coffee. They are always being challenged to learn more and do better. They spend themselves each day to do their best for others, using their hands and their heads and their hearts to care. They teach me something every day and for that I am grateful.