Are teachers born or do they develop over time?

Abstract

A colleague recently hired two new plastic surgeons for his department. They are bright, excellent clinicians who are proven investigators, and are eager to work with medical students and residents. Within the first few weeks of joining his staff, they both raised a variation of the same question, “I really enjoy teaching the students, and I want to do it better, but I’m really busy trying to establish my practice. I’m overwhelmed by the thought of how much time it would take to read a book on teaching and do not know the field of education well enough to attempt to find key articles online; I’m not sure I’d know where to begin looking. Where can I go to learn to be a better teacher, and how can I do it in a way that fits into my schedule?” How long does it take to develop into a good teacher and role model, and did you have any questions along the way? Perhaps the more important question is, are you truly a good teacher now? How can you become even better? Because of the tremendous necessity to develop true plastic surgery educators and role models today, Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery has developed a new Plastic Surgery Educator article series. The forthcoming series of articles arises out of the realization that most plastic surgeons are hired by academic institutions or clinical enterprises because of their patient care skills, with little attention paid to their teaching ability. I have asked Dr. Robert Weber to spearhead this article series, in the hope that it will benefit other plastic surgeons. He has developed into an exemplary plastic surgery educator and has worked hard at becoming a talented plastic surgery teacher. An informal survey of plastic surgeons showed that fewer than one in 10 have had any training in the theory or practice of adult education, yet they are expected to be training the next generation of practitioners. Plastic surgery residents are also expected to be teachers, but the curriculum of medical schools and surgical residencies has contained scant amounts of teacher training. As the need for practicing plastic surgeons continues to increase, more plastic surgery educators are required. The necessity to learn how to teach is not confined to academic plastic surgeons; rather, the necessity is placed on all of us. Robert Ruberg points out that all plastic surgeons should be teachers. He writes, “We have a unique opportunity—maybe even an obligation—to also become lifelong teachers.”1 Rather than “hiding out” in office practices, he admonishes plastic surgeons to present plastic surgery topics at medical staff meetings or offer in-services to nursing and office personnel in an effort to teach colleagues what a plastic surgeon does and why. Most importantly, Ruberg reminds us that patient education is a critical aspect of patient care.1 Good teachers make good doctors. Every discipline is one generation from extinction. The pejorative adage “Those who can, do; those who cannot, teach” reflects the low esteem many practitioners have toward teaching. Professional schools often have difficulty attracting good teachers because of the disparity of compensation between a practitioner and an educator. Medical institutions have had the tendency to reward professors more for research than for education. Surgery faces the situation where decreasing reimbursement and increasing patient loads have made it harder to carve out time to teach, let alone spend the time to learn how to improve teaching skills.

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