Thoughts on the relationship between developing teaching skills and patient care:

Continuing and Professional Development Blog

December 2016

How does being a great teacher translate into being a great and compassionate clinician?  It can and it does!

This month was the fourth successful year of the Post-Graduate Trainees:  Future Academic Clinician-Educators course, a four-way collaborative effort sponsored by the MGH Institute of Health Professions, the Harvard Macy Institute, Boston Children’s Hospital, and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mt. Sinai.  The course drew 49 trainee scholars from over 10 institutions in the U. S. and Canada for three days of education project work, discussion and application of principles of teaching and learning, and teaching skills practice.  More than 20 faculty from as far away as Michigan, Virginia and Washington volunteer their time, energy, thoughts and advice for this eager group of junior educators, all of whom are pursuing a career as clinician-teachers. 


As I reflect on this year’s course, I am again struck by the parallels between the skills of being a great teacher and a great clinician.  Here are a few examples that immediately come to mind:


Learning tendencies:  We all have individual ways that we most easily grasp and process new information in order to learn and build upon our prior knowledge; some like to watch, others to read and reflect, and others to “jump in” and give something a try.  Teachers who can creatively guide learners through new experiences, with patience and respect, are likely to be effective in enhancing their learners’ knowledge and abilities.  Similarly, when we explain new diagnoses or advise new treatments to our patients, we can gauge the best way to enhance their understanding through a variety of communication methods.  Can we challenge ourselves to “meet” them where they will learn best?

Creating a teaching plan:  As teachers, we often prepare our general plans for a learning encounter, complete with learning needs assessment, intended objectives, and experiences to help our learners. Yet, how often do we similarly “plan” for a clinical encounter with such intentionality?  Can we find ways to assess our patient’s needs during this visit and align our and our patient’s objectives?  What are the experiences that we provide to our patients to help them successfully achieve their health objectives?  How often do we explicitly make this the basis for our interactions? 

Feedback:  Feedback, as an exchange of information, is a necessary, but often times, lacking component of education.  And yet, feedback is an alliance between teacher and learner, based on mutual respect and a shared understanding that the goals of a successful feedback relationship are based on the success of the learner.  Our clinical practice can benefit from the same reinforcement of mutual understanding and alliance for the benefit of the patient.  We are a team:  teacher and learner; clinician care-provider and patient client.


These parallels (and more) can contribute to an investment in education that specifically dovetails with and enhances our clinical care practices,  one-on-one and through our organizational interactions.  We just need to make it happen.