Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics

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What we gain from teaching

Why physicians teach: giving back by paying it forward. Steinert Y et al. Medical Education 2015 49: 773-782.


Reviewed by Ginny Randall

What was the study question?
The goal of the study was to describe what it means for physicians to teach medical students and residents in an inpatient setting.

How was the study done?
Semi-structured interviews of 15 physicians (6 from internal medicine, 3 from surgery, and 6 from pediatrics) were audiotaped at McGill University (Montreal, Canada). Each of the investigators read all the transcripts and generated codes independently. Themes were then sought across cases with attention to recurring meaning.

What were the results?
Five themes were identified that described the meaning of teaching.

  1. Teaching was perceived as an integral part of their identity: “Teaching is who I am.”
  2. Giving back: Repaying former teachers: “As I was training I was lucky enough to benefit from excellent teachers at many levels and so, (a) I know what kind of a difference it can make and (b) it’s a way of continuing the cycle or repaying them.”
  3. Developing the next generation: “It’s a question of passing things on, a bit of a legacy.”
  4. Teaching as learning: “If you have students and residents with you, you’ll never be obsolete because you’ll be questioned …”
  5. Teaching as energizing and gratifying: “…if you get positive feedback from someone it’s immediate gratification…Just that in itself is a reward.”

What are the implications of these findings?
This study demonstrated the complexity of a physician’s motivation and joy of teaching. In particular it highlights the feeling of “teacher” as a personal identity of the physician, and the meaning of teaching as a means of “giving back.”

Editor’s note: This study’s findings are inspiring and may give us some guidance on how to recruit and retain our clinical preceptors. Are there ways that we can “remind” busy clinicians of these benefits, are there things we can do to celebrate these things? (SLB).

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