Have you ever had a colleague say to you:
“They want me to teach in this new integrated physiology course, but no one has ever taught me how to be an effective teacher! I’ll be so nervous and probably make embarrassing mistakes, like saying the “love hormone”, oxytocin, is synthesized from cholesterol in the adrenal medulla.”
Being asked to teach first year medical students can certainly be intimidating, but that assignment is not actually akin to being thrown to the wolves. It is true that medical students are often over-achievers, but it’s been my experience over many years that these students are respectful and anxious to learn.
Maybe I can offer you a few tips that will help you avoid or prevent these first time ‘teaching jitters’:
- Know your subject and relevant scientific facts inside and out
- Take advantage of teaching skills, workshops, and faculty development programs at your institution or through professional organizations
- Ask your colleagues for constructive criticism of your first presentations
- Remember that practice makes perfect, at least most of the time
- Remember that a good sense of humor goes a long way, but bad jokes rarely help the situation
- Don’t be afraid that you will make a couple of mistakes- we all make them but not all of us learn from them
- Work to create effective visuals which may include human interest stories, physiology in the news, and even masterpieces by your favorite artist
Another more proactive approach is to offer programs that will encourage students to pursue their interests in teaching and help them develop the communication skills and understanding of different learning styles and pedagogies that are so essential to becoming an enthusiastic and dedicated educator. Many medical students want to ultimately incorporate teaching into their future careers as clinicians, either by formally teaching in an academic medical center or more informally through their communication with patients and with the community at large.
Here at the Carver College of Medicine at The University of Iowa we encourage our students to pursue one of our specific distinction tracks, which include research, teaching, global health, service, humanities and healthcare delivery science and management, while they are pursuing their medical degree. Although the whole concept of “teaching medical students to teach” is certainly not unique to my institution (ref 1), I do believe that our Teaching Distinction track is unique and has succeeded in terms of achieving the desired outcomes. I’ve been very fortunate, not to mention honored, to serve as the faculty mentor for several of our previous and current students who have selected to pursue their MD with a Distinction in Teaching. It has been very exciting for me to have the opportunity to impact a student’s learning, not only in the classroom, but also in terms of their own experiences and development as educators. It has also been very gratifying when a former mentee tells me that they learned so much from me- not just endocrinology and cell biology, but also how to convey passion and enthusiasm as a teacher. Certainly this has been a win-win experience because I’ve learned so much from these students! Maybe Henry Adams was right when he concluded that “A teacher affects eternity; he/she can never tell where his/her influence stops.”
In order to graduate with a Distinction in Teaching our students must meet a number of requirements that include a minimum of 60 hours of relevant teaching experiences that may include: tutoring and didactic teaching; creating new educational materials; serving as a small-group facilitator; and participation on medical education committees (ref 2). These students are also required to develop a teaching portfolio and to successfully complete a 4-week teaching elective with a capstone project (ref 2). Since this distinction track was fully implemented in 2010, approximately 60 students, or 7-8% of all graduates, have graduated with a Distinction in Teaching. We’ve also heard anecdotally that some students have decided to attend medical school here at the University of Iowa because they specifically wanted to pursue this track, and that having this distinction track on their resume gave them a competitive advantage during their interviews for residency positions.
Great teachers are not always born with that potential, but frequently discover their passion at some point in their careers. I hope that through this Teaching Distinction track we’ve trained and inspired some excellent teachers who will have major impacts on all of their future students.
- Soriano RP, Blatt B, Coplit L, CichoskiKelly E, Kosowicz L, Newman L, Pasquale SJ, Pretorius R, Rosen JM, Saks NS and Greenberg L. Teaching medical students to teach: a national survey of students-as-teachers programs in U.S. medical schools. Acad Med. 2010;85:1725-31.
- Schmidt TJ, Ferguson KJ, Hansen HB and Pettit JE. Teaching distinction track for future medical educators. Med. Sci. Educ. 2015;25:303-06.