This week, I have been thinking a lot about great teachers I have had in the course of my medical training. The doctors I worked with in Bangladesh inspired me to go to medical school in the first place. I saw the exciting work they were doing clinically and also the patient education they were engaged in, training students, and teaching local community leaders about public health. They empowered me as a learner by being open to my questions, generous with their time and attention, including me in what was going on through language translation and through thinking aloud so I could follow their process.
Other models have included my clinic mentor during residency. He helped motivate me to consider primary care and clinician-educator careers. He shared many of the qualities of my mentors in Bangladesh: openness, generosity, transparency. In addition, it always impressed me how happy he seemed. Even when we were dealing with clinical and social disasters, difficult patient situations, time pressure, and so on, he was committed to the learning opportunity. I sensed that he was essentially optimistic about people. He could meet them wherever they were and find some way to help, with the implicit understanding that everyone could do better, everyone could improve. Somehow he found the right balance between challenge and support for each patient, student, and resident. And he truly seemed to enjoy it.
I want to have the skills at teaching that I have seen in my role models and have it be something that I love doing. Teaching is sometimes undervalued in academic medicine, since it generally does not bring in any clinical revenue or research funds. But good teaching is the foundation of all other academic activities. It has the potential to be very fulfilling, when you can see someone else benefit from your influence.
As an educator, you can make a difference not only to the individual learner, but to every learner that person has in the future. Role models form part of a chain in passing down knowledge and also personal and professional values, qualities, and aspirations. I want to be part of the chain that has come down to me through my mentors and their mentors before them, which now rests with me to carry forward.