Humbling Reminders of the Power of Educators

the teaching hospitalvsmI’ve always had strong feelings about education. I was an uninspired and underachieving medical student, exasperated at the fact that the preclinical course at my medical school consisted of lengthy lectures about detailed aspects of basic sciences like histology and embryology. To make it worse, the teaching was delivered by basic science PhD students who were required to teach medical students as part of their contract. They taught because they had to, not because they were good at it. In other words, the best way to summarise how I was initially taught to be a doctor is this: my medical training consisted of being taught stuff I didn’t need to know, by people who weren’t doctors, and who didn’t know how to teach.

This frustrated me enormously. It wasn’t until I hit the wards as a senior medical student and then junior doctor that I would occasionally run into enthusiastic and supportive clinicians who were keen to share what they knew. They seemed to be few and far between, but the crumbs they dropped were enough to leave a trail that led me to be determined to become a doctor who could similarly inspire and motivate others to love learning.

Throughout my training I made a consistent observation: a small amount of good education was extremely motivating. The converse was also true – being denied access to education was extremely demotivating.  In one department, teaching was continually cancelled due to patient load. When questioned on this, the clinical director stated “teaching is a privilege, not a right”. This influenced me profoundly, because I immediately adopted that phrase as a personal motto, except that I flipped the order of “right” and “privilege”.

A few events have converged this week to remind me of the power of good education. The first, and most important, was when my friend Rob Rogers, a renowned emergency medicine educator who has run courses on how to teach all over the world, tweeted a picture of an interesting ECG.

Rob and his team have inspired so many people with their brilliant education. Faced with a life-threatening ST-elevation MI, Rob chose to share his ECG with his Twitter followers. Later he shared details of his angiogram pre- and post-revascularisation. Now THAT is commitment to education!

The second event this week is that we are running our Sydney HEMS induction course in prehospital & retrieval medicine. This is about as full on as medical education can get, with hours of simulation, testing, and stress exposure. I am constantly amazed at the dedication and hard work of my colleagues who make up the course faculty, and the willingness of the participants to go the extra mile to improve their performance. We have the honour of  inviting medics from certain branches of the Australian military to attend the course, and one such armed forces ‘graduate’ of our course recently contacted me:

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He attached a document outlining a situation he faced which took my breath away. I’m not yet allowed to share it, but the bravery he showed was awe-inspiring. To think that he credits some of his preparation to the training we gave is truly humbling. It is also a reminder of the enormous responsibility of educators.

We can provide both negative and positive inspiration through our choices in what we say and how we say them, and in the teaching we deliver. As learners those educational experiences shape us and stay with us forever, influencing the choices we make and how we choose to pass on the teaching. 

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We are lucky to live in an age of Free Open Access Medical Education,  when the educational ripples reach out from EMCrit, St Emlyn’s, EM IrelandscanFOAM, badEM, LifeInTheFastLane, and so many others to all parts of the world. We’re all in this together, as teachers and as learners.

The humbling feedback from my military friend along with Rob’s ongoing desire to educate in the face of life-threatening illness serve to remind us of the power of education, and the responsibility we educators have to share, to inspire, and to provide the highest quality teaching.

Something Rob already seems to be working on, less than a week post-myocardial infarction …

One thought on “Humbling Reminders of the Power of Educators”

  1. Totally agree Cliff. There is no more humbling, and pleasurable, experience than hearing that something you helped someone learn has made a difference.

    Special moments indeed.

    I know that the ‘educational stones’ that you and the Sydney HEMS crew have thrown into the pool of medicine have produced ripples (waves even) that have travelled far and wide helping others learn, treat and save.

    Stay awesome.

    vb

    S

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