Undoubtedly, there are numerous surgeons who are incredible educators, but many find it becomes more difficult to connect with medical students as they grow in their own careers. The stress of deadlines, challenges in teaching complex cases to the residents and fellows, administrative duties, and family needs all drain energy and enthusiasm. It becomes easier to plug away at the to-do list than attempt to bridge the generational gap and understand what students want and need from faculty.
As an Acute Care Surgeon and Assistant Director of the pre-clinical years of medical school, I have learned a lot about teaching all levels of learners. I thought it would be helpful to give practical tips on how surgeons can engage medical students in a way that accelerates their learning on surgical services. It’s actually much easier than you think. Here are three very easy, no additional time needed, “secrets” on how to effectively teach and connect to medical students. No, these ideas are not teaching methods, instructions on how to incorporate technology, or even ways to better understand millennials. They are more fundamental, far less complicated, and proven to work. If you can take away anything from reading this blog, remember “ICE” (Inclusion, Civility and Expectations).
The vast majority of students entering medical school today are exceedingly bright, have real life experience, and are just as eager to learn about patient care as you were starting out. They are idealistic and hopeful. They want to be able to use their talents to make a difference in the world, and the worked really hard to get the opportunity to work with you. Considering that the medical students (and sometimes the patient) are the only people in the operating room paying to be there, it can help us remember it is our responsibility as the leader of our teams to assure the students feel included. Introduce yourself and introduce them to the team in the OR. Acknowledge their presence, point out anatomical details, and ask them if they have any questions. When students are welcomed into this new and often very intimidating environment, they will become more relaxed and able to learn, this is fundamental human nature.
Inclusion goes hand in hand with just simply being civil. As the pressure builds to perform clinically and academically on us as faculty, we often forget the “niceties” and our manners (I am as guilty as anyone). We become so focused on the tasks in front of us we even forget to even say “hello”, “thank you”, and “good job” to those working with us, and then rationalize it as we are just too busy. Medical students are adults and your future colleagues, treat them as such- with respect. Basic things like introducing yourself, keeping conversations professional, and including the students in conversations can go a long way to helping them have a positive experience and assimilate more quickly into the surgical culture. Inquiring about the student’s interests, goals and experiences can help you understand their current level of training and give context to their questions. Also, simply assuring someone on the gives the students an orientation on the basics such as where the bathrooms are located, where they can keep their belongings during the day, and how to get into the ORs will allow the students to spend more time learning and less time navigating the hallways.
Lastly, students crave transparency, as do we all. Setting clear expectations during the time spent with the surgical team will allow the students to prepare appropriately. If they know what time rounds start and that you will have them present their patients in a certain way, they can prepare. Making this a routine part of your interactions with students will save everyone time, prevent confusion… and resentment!
We all know surgery provides endless educational opportunities for our trainees. The clinic, wards, OR, ICUs, and ERs are incredible classrooms, and you have the opportunity to show them what made us choose surgery as a profession. Each student will either become a surgeon, a consultant to a surgeon, or a colleague referring patients to a surgeon. It is our collective honor and duty to teach every one of them about what we do and why. It may seem obvious, but remembering to deliberately incorporate Inclusion, Civility, and provide clear Expectations will create an environment which amplifies learning and fosters excellence from every trainee…and it won’t cost a cent, or even a minute. I guarantee you will quickly see the benefits in your student evaluations and in their positive feedback about the rotation.