Teachable Moments

Everyone who’s in medicine in one way or another has been involved with “teachable moments”.  For some, they’re teaching, others are learning.  One way or another, anyone can be on either side of the coin.

The other day, I got to do the teachable side – there were some medical students coming for a tour of our health region and some little stations were set up for them to learn/practice some common things – casting, a mock code, delivery of a baby through a mock up and suturing.  I had the privilege of doing the suturing station.  We all sat down with some instruments, sutures and pig trotters from the butcher and went about repairing minor wounds and using different techniques to close things well.  A couple of the youngsters were having some problems…of the kind where a general surgeon might look at them and not so gently tell them that they are destined to be a psychiatrist or a medical microbiologist because their mental and manual dexterity weren’t that good.

A wise movie karate sensei once said “No such thing as bad student, only bad teacher.  Teacher say, student do.”  In the short time I had, I felt there was a need to try and intervene with a few to keep levels of confidence up.  One clearly had an issue of knowing what they wanted to do and how, but were trying to do everything all at the same time.  Once we had that figured out and slowed things down a little, bang, no issues.  Another was overthinking things and wasn’t listening to advice, repeating the same problem over and over.  To solve that, I had to re-think how to re-teach this person this skill…I went back to basics and had them follow the steps as I did them to make sure they were doing what they needed to do the correct way.

The science of medicine is taught in the class room, but the important stuff – the art as well as the science – is learned on the job, in the ER, the OR, the wards and clinics.  It’s passed along from one practitioner to another – everyone at one point in their clinical lives will be teaching in one way or another…and if you’re in a patient centric specialty like family or internal medicine, your job is to teach your patients, so you’ll be doing a lot of it.  Remember how people taught you – were they crappy and doing it because they had to or were they good at what they did and enjoyed passing along their little tidbits?  Everyone is a teacher in medicine, be it to students, colleagues or your patients…so learn to be good at it, that way the art of medicine remains in the profession and continues to be passed along.

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