Learning to Ride a Bike

July 13, 2010

This time of year is when new interns start residency and senior residents graduate. Figuratively, some of them are like my son, who is exploring the newfound freedom of riding his bike without a parent holding on.

My two older kids recently learned or are learning to ride a bike. One evening this week, I found myself helping my daughter to ride her bike. I held on to the handlebars while she pedaled. Every once in a while she would scream, “Let go” and I was supposed to let her ride on her own. After a few feet, she invariably started tipping in one direction or the other. I tried my best to catch her before she fell.

Despite my holding onto her bike nearly all the way around the neighborhood, she excitedly told my husband when we returned home, “I rode my bike around the block.” She was understandably proud of her new accomplishment.

Meanwhile, my son was lapping us as he explored the newfound freedom of riding his bike without a parent holding on. He is very confident of his exceptional bike riding skills, telling me, “Daddy rides his bike very fast - almost as fast as a car. I ride my bike fast too. I’m almost as fast as Daddy. So, I can bike almost as fast as a car too.” Fortunately for his worrywart of a mother, he cannot actually ride his bike that fast.

This time of year is when new interns start residency and senior residents graduate. Figuratively, some of them are like my son. Newly confident in their clinical skills, ready to take the bike around the block by themselves. Some are just learning and need a steady hand on the handlebars as they try out their new skills.

I face a similar challenge as a physician educator as I do as a parent. How much do I hold on and how much do I let go in guiding, teaching, and shepherding these new doctors through the nuances, struggles, and accomplishments of their residency training? I often hold on longer than I should or let go too early.

It is a learning process for the teacher as well. However, the reward is sharing in their accomplishment when they can finally say with a smile, “I did it myself.”