During medical residency, we take care of patients under the supervision of an attending physician, telling the attending the details of the case during rounds. I had always been the one explaining the case, but once at a free clinic in San Jose, I was suddenly on the other side of the interaction and responsible for supervising the decisions. The clinic is staffed largely by new medical students and undergraduate pre-meds. The students told me about their patient, a gentleman with seizures for ten years. I wanted to teach them something useful about the case, but I found myself in unfamiliar territory and questioning my ability to share knowledge.
I started with an open-ended question to try to gauge the knowledge level of the students (strategies available here). “How do we classify seizures?” It was too broad to be useful, and since they simply did not know, our discussion did not naturally progress. I answered my own question, and gave additional details. One of the students typed frantically on his laptop as I spoke, in a way that made me certain that he wasn’t really listening so much as transcribing. Meanwhile we were in the back of a crowded room, with people squeezing past us on both sides and enough background noise that they had to lean in to hear.
I left feeling disappointed at my first attempt at teaching, feeling like my content had not been very well-organized and that I may have been teaching above the level of the learners. However, I received a follow-up email from one of the students I’d worked with.
“Thank you for walking through…the types of seizures and what they mean! I really appreciated how you were exploring the different types of seizures with us (i.e. asking us [questions] and being clear with us all the things you don't know.) I realized that mentorship was a HUGE part of medicine, and I was very grateful to be on the receiving end this past Saturday!”
I realized that maybe what I had lacked in my structure, I had made up for in creating an environment that was safe for questions and safe to acknowledge what we didn’t know, despite the physical environment being less than ideal.
When I think of a mentor, I think of someone approachable and relatable, with experience or wisdom to share. Another description of a mentor is available here on the Teaching Commons site. While I feel like I have so much experience and wisdom left to gain, I hope I do have some to offer as well, and I’m glad I had a chance to share that Saturday morning with some future physicians early in the long journey of medical education.
Kirsten Brandt, MD is a Resident in Internal Medicine at Stanford Hospital & Clinics. She plans to work as a primary care physician upon finishing her training in 2015.