Why should meducation be done properly?

We’ve all been there. The consultant, totally oblivious to the world, droning on about their speciality as if the knowledge they’ve accumulated over decades is common sense to us all. You sit their nodding your head rhythmically to fool everyone into thinking that you’re learning something. The hours teaching session is turned into a marathon effort to try and stay awake.

Education is a fundamental pillar of any profession and without education, medicine would fall. The use of traditional and dogmatic methods which produce unproductive learning experiences is doing a disservice to both the student and the profession. It is also a poor use of the doctor’s and student’s time – something which is increasingly difficult to find. And now, when the burden of paying for a medical education is shifting towards the individual, medical students rightly demand a good quality education.

As a child moving schools my learning never became disorientated because I always found that my teachers used similar teaching methods. These methods are based upon educational theory and research and are taught to all teachers. Likewise there are many similarities in medical school curriculums (PBLs, etc.) because they all arise from the same pool of educational research.

This all changes on the ward however. The teaching provided by many clinicians is no longer based on current research and theory but on the individual and old-fashioned ideas which may not work very well. Medical students and doctors are not getting the best educational experience possible because their teachers are not equipped properly to be the best teachers.

As a student I want my teachers to be the best that they can be. I want them to be familiar with the current thinking on education and the psychology of learning. A teacher well-versed in the theory and art of teaching could perhaps help me to become a better doctor. As a teacher I would want my students to gain as much as possible from me. And I would want to know that the teaching methods I’m employing are effective.

I think that learning how to teach is not emphasised enough in our medical curriculum or even in our profession. These days we teach each other how to be better communicators with techniques validated by research, yet we neglect to teach ourselves how to be better teachers. Our profession should emphasise the need to not only be the best doctor, scholar and scientist as is possible, but also the best educator too. To not do so would be to ignore the foundations of our profession.

Medical schools have realised this and have begun to teach their students how to teach. But all too often the time spent on this only amounts to a few hours during the final year. If this knowledge is not practiced and built upon it can be easily forgotten. Perhaps more importantly, doctors are not being taught to teach. The informal teaching they do every day on the wards is wasted because they are not employing effective techniques.

What I have argued is not necessarily a no-brainer and there are many considerations to think about. How do we prevent the creativity and imagination from natural teachers being stifled, for example? How to implement this in real life is also another debate altogether. I simply wanted to start a conversation about our education. And I wanted to ask whether we are becoming the best teachers that we can possibly be?

By Sil-Jun Lau

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