Transitioning into an educator

01 May 2019

By Madeline B. Torres

As a schoolkid, I associated July with hot Summer days at the pool with friends. Now, as I wrap up my research years at the National Cancer Institute, July reminds me of the transitions we experience in medicine every year. Each July, freshly minted interns start their journey into residency, and are not only tasked with the care of patients but also the education of medical students.

Caring for patients can be daunting and overwhelming, yet extremely rewarding. As an intern, you will learn to place orders, do bedside procedures, and operate. You will be exhausted, and at times find yourself without the patience or desire to teach. However, I ask that you remember you were once a student, not too long ago. During times like that, think of the residents that made an impact in your education and the qualities that you treasured.

Here are a few things I learned over the last few years:

·         Set expectations. Ask students what their expectations of the rotation are, similarly, share your expectations of them. This ensures their goals as learners and yours as the teacher are met.

·         Set measurable goals. Set daily or weekly learning goals, then follow up at the end of the day or week to check if the set goals were met.

·         Provide autonomy. Give the students level appropriate tasks. For example, they can help with the rounding list, dressing changes, patient walks, placing foley catheters and nasogastric tubes, suture, staple and/or drain removal. Giving the students tasks will teach them valuable skills, make them feel part of the team and help you assess their skill levels.

·         Take advantage of small teaching moments. One of my favorite residents, now a pediatric surgeon (@citizensurgeon) used to take every free available moment to teach and discuss – walking between cases, waiting for a patient to wake up, waiting for sign out. Take advantage of the few free minutes to talk about a topic, the care of a patient. Every minute counts and the students appreciate it, as I did.

·         Provide feedback. We all wish we received more real time feedback, so why not start doing this with your students? There are multiple ways to provide feedback. My personal preference is to provide feedback after a procedure or seeing a consult, perhaps at the end of the day or the week. I pick and set a non-threatening environment and tell the student I am about to give her/him feedback. Focus on the behavior and not the individual, provide suggestions to improve upon the behavior.

·         Nurture creativity. Remember that there is more than one way to do things, just because it isn’t your way, it doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Pay attention to your students train of thought and how they come to their conclusions rather than just the answer.

·         Be kind. Medical training is hard, there is no need to make it harder by being rude.

·         Be inclusive. Remember what it felt like not being acknowledged by the team in that one rotation? I do, don’t do that to your students. Make them feel welcomed, a part of the team. Include them during rounds, procedures, take them along to see a consult.

·         Encourage wellness and self-care. Physician burnout and suicide are on the rise, remember to take care of yourself and also remind your students to take meal breaks, keep doctor’s appointments and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

As I prepare to go back as a mid-level resident, I look forward to working with students again and taking a more active role in the teaching of junior residents. Being an educator is a privilege, take advantage of the opportunity to train our next generation of physicians. And have fun along the way!

Madeline B. Torres, M.D. is a general surgery resident at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, PA, currently finishing a research fellowship in surgical oncology at National Cancer Institute (NCI) in Bethesda, Maryland. Dr. Torres was born and raised in El Salvador. She immigrated to the United States with her mother and brother at the age of nine. She then went on to obtain her B.S. in chemistry from the University of Colorado at Denver and earned her medical degree from the University of Utah School of Medicine. She became involved with AWS during medical school after working with AWS members Amalia Cochran M.D. and Leigh Neumayer M.D. whom she considers mentors. Her academic interests include surgical education, surgical oncology, work-life balance, and encouraging women and minorities to pursue surgery and other careers in medicine.


Our blog is a forum for our members to speak, and as such, statements made here represent the opinions of the author and are not necessarily the opinion of the Association of Women Surgeons.

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