Monday, March 23, 2009

Random Musings on Teaching Medicine (1)

Over the weekend, I attended an intensive course on teaching for higher learning in the field of medicine. It was a selected group that participated and I feel honored to be included with all these medical professors. Medical education has expanded by leaps and bounds since the apprentice system of my training days. I was fascinated to learn that there are now full time medical educators with their own professional bodies, journals and conferences.

In the context of our discussion, it was suggested that being an excellent competent doctor does not necessarily mean that he or she will be an excellent competent teacher. A question was asked whether teachers are born or made. Personally I believe the question is nuanced because it depends who is asking the question and who is answering them. A profession medical educationalist will likely to favor ‘being made’ while an overburdened clinician-scientist-medical doctor will favor ‘being born.’ The alternative implication to them will include the involvement of the medical educationalists in their lives.

Being a good teacher involves knowing and understanding medical content, an ability to communicate, a charisma to command respect, and a high EQ. Gardner in alerting us to multiple intelligences has expanded our understanding of different types of intelligences. These intrinsic characteristics and intelligences that favor a good teacher are also reflected in a good doctor. It is my proposition that a good doctor is also a good teacher. Note here that I am referring to the character of the doctor and not his or her technical skill. Elsewhere I have posted about a highly competent surgeon with poor EQ as trainer of surgeons. Some doctors are practitioner of the art of medicine and some are mechanics and we need to differentiate between them in our discussion.

If all good doctors are good teachers, why then are there some doctors who cannot teach? All things being equal, I believe good teachers are people who have a desire to teach. Therefore good doctors who want to teach will be good teachers. The reverse is also true.
Do doctor educators need effective teaching tools? Yes, they do if they are to be better than they are. However one needs to be aware of the dangers of these teaching (pedagogical/androgical) tools being awarded greater importance than they deserve. These tools should be a minor part of medical education and should not be regarded as the key to medical education.

Answering the question he asks in his paper, Are Teachers Born or Made? Max Malikow of Le Moyne College, an educationalist, seems to contradict himself when he writes, “There is no such entity as a born teacher. However, by nature, some people possess a combination of personality characteristic that are conducive to effective teaching. Further, these characteristics have been enriched by a lifetime of favorable nurturing.” He then adds, “Nevertheless, even the most genetically blessed teacher would benefit from a teacher education program.”

Maybe the answer lies in the middle. Teachers are both made and born. Malikow quoting William Butler Yeats’ observation that “[e]ducation is not the filling of the pail, but the lighting of a fire” confirms my suspicion that teaching and education is the process of mentoring rather than a just set of techniques or tools.


National Forum of Teacher Education Journal-Electronic. Volume 16 Number 3E, 2005-2006. Retrieved 30 June 2007 from Malikow,%20Max%20Are%20Teachers%20Born%20or%20Made%20The%20Necessity%20of%20Teacher%20Training%20Programs.pdf

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