Being a teacher is one of the most important jobs there is in society. When you are a resident teacher for a medical school the quality of your teaching has an indirect impact on the lives of thousands. How well you teach medical undergraduates might well determine how good a physician they become in the future, and of course how many lives they can save.

It is not just the ‘body count’ that matters. Being a good doctor involves so much more than simply knowing your facts and applying the best treatment available at the time. Being a good doctor is a test for the psyche in so many ways. Along with technical proficiency and medical knowledge a good doctor needs a whole range of other skills that are difficult both to list and to teach. It is often these skills that I feel obliged to work on. This is because so much of the technical training these days is done in learning labs using computers. In many cases this is better because a computer never forgets a key point, whereas even the best medical teachers sometimes omit a crucial detail.

The most well known skill that I try to teach is good ‘bedside manner’. New doctors can sometimes be brusque, they can sometimes forget that the layman gets confused with medical terms, and they can often forget to reassure a patient. Science is still not able to explain why a positive mental outlook works wonders for people with illnesses. I don’t prescribe to ‘New Age’ theories of chakras, meditation etc. but these alternative approaches are important in that they empower the patient to help themselves. This is no bad thing, and it is something that I think all new doctors should consider carefully.

Secondly, there is mental toughness. At times doctors have to work incredibly long hours. They must maintain concentration and focus. I try to get my students to work out personal systems for dealing with the workload and pressure. We are all different and how we cope with stress also varies from person to person. I encourage my students to find ‘what works for them’.

Then there is triage. This is the notion of prioritizing to do the most good; the idea of finding the best way through a work pile. Triage can be incredibly difficult even with the best medical facilities and resources available. Sometimes it is a matter of instinct. What will have the greatest short term impact? Which patients have the most chance of survival?

Finally, I also counsel students who feel the pressure of failure. It doesn’t help to tell a trainee doctor that they will make fatal mistakes. At the same time they must align their expectations to what is the ‘norm’. All doctors have to know their limits and accept their fallibility. As long as you learn from your mistakes you can usually be forgiven for making them. Dealing with the pressure of life and death is no easy business.

In a way being a resident medical teacher is just the same as being any other type of teacher. There are teaching strategies to master, theory to think about and new advances to keep abreast of. In the end, no two teachers do their job in exactly the same way. Theorists of teaching often forget this. They are so wrapped up in obscure jargonized learning that they fail to see the human element to teaching. Instead they argue among themselves.

This blog is for all teachers, not just medical teachers. Society places its hopes in us for we teach the up-coming generations the skills necessary to maintain society ? how to design bridges, how to do calculus, how to write a sonnet, how to piece together a credible narrative of the past. Even autodidacts use books as their teachers. I believe teachers are the bedrock of civilization. If our teachers fail to do their jobs properly we will slide back into the dark ages.

Considering the importance of the teaching profession, it seems a most worthy endeavor to collect view points about teaching in as many fields as possible. The articles contained herein aim to throw light on the teacher’s task whether it relates to explaining food nutrition, the benefits of travel, methods for stopping smoking. Whatever. Pedagogy relates to all human actions and relations.

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