Council on Medical Student Education in Pediatrics


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Defining our most influential teachers
The highly influential teacher:  Recognizing our unsung heroes.
Osterberg  et al. Medical  Education 2015; 49: 1117-1123.

What was the study question?

Looking back, what were the defining characteristics of the most influential teachers on the development of a physician's identity?

How was the study done?

This was a qualitative study, which used grounded theory to analyze personal narratives written by 20 faculty members (91% response rate) from 3 institutions based on the prompt 'Write about your most influential teacher.' The faculty members enrolled in the study were a convenience sample, as they were also those involved in a year-long faculty development program designed to teach humanism.

What were the results?

The majority (55%) of faculty members identified clinical teachers as their most influential teachers. After qualitative analysis, two main themes emerged: the personal and teaching qualities of the individual teacher and the relationship between the learner and teacher. The personal and teaching qualities highlighted included: demonstrating excellence in teaching, mastery of subject matter and enthusiasm for learning, being generous and selfless, having charisma, and being a great communicator while being mindful and present. The most impactful teacher-learner dyad was based on a caring and longitudinal relationship without hierarchy in which the learner felt supported yet had the ability to define his or her own goals.

What are the implications of these findings?

Most of the characteristics described are also the traits, which we hope to instill in our learners during the process of professional identity formation. It is important to identify these potential influential teachers, as well as study the ways to effectively instill and teach these characteristics in others through faculty development programs.

Editor's note: One way to reflect upon the findings of this study is to consider "Will I be one of my trainee's most influential teachers?", "What do I need to do differently (or the same) to make a positive, perhaps life long, influence on those I teach?" (SLB).

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