As each new academic year begins in July, the patients in my small town practice eagerly await the new batch of medical students headed to the office. As I introduce each passing medical student, I am very grateful that my patients are very willing to spend a few extra minutes of their cherished time with the medical students. I have been teaching medical students from day one in my private practice and that time period has just passed nine years now. Many of the patients that I currently treat were participants in my medical education. As each student comes and goes, my patients are quick to remind them that they remember when I was wearing the short white jacket.
"I remember when Dr. Litton was in college and used to volunteer with my previous doctor," was the line from one patient earlier this week. Another patient from down the hallway said, "...and I remember when he came through on rotations in medical school!" When we were students, it seemed as if there was a never-ending supply of patients to interview, examine, present to our attendings, etc. How grateful we should be of their participation in our medical training and education.
The Importance of Teaching in Medical Practice
I am now in my ninth year of private practice and continue to teach medical students regularly. Why do I do this? The monetary rewards are certainly not great. The average stipend given by most schools for a typical student's four-week rotation does not even come close to reimbursing the hours and hours spent with the student. The reason I continue to teach is essentially twofold.
First, I see teaching as a way to repay the gift given to me by my teachers in the past. We gain a certain amount of knowledge and instruction from each of our attendings. The old saying, "see one, do one, teach one," is certainly the norm. Second, I choose to teach because teaching not only forces me to stay current with medical literature and standards of care, but it also helps to solidify my understanding of medicine. I had a very wise professor in anatomy lab that would routinely ask us to teach a small section of the current day's dissection to our lab partners. Teaching facilitates understanding was the saying from my anatomy professor. He was wise beyond his years.
As I teach a medical student how to perform a physical examination, the process helps me to further understand why each pertinent positive and negative are actually important. As I guide them in their history taking, I am able to more precisely refine my history taking skills. The practice of medicine is just that. It is a practice. We can never hope to be perfect and the ongoing practice can only help to make us better clinicians.
Teaching students and residents in your practice can also bring a certain level of refreshment or invigoration to your practice. For times during the year when I feel myself beginning to be tired or burned out, a medical student or resident rotation can actually help me to energize myself and reignite the spark of excitement.
I choose to teach because I am grateful for the ones that took the time to teach me. For those of you finding yourselves growing tired of the days in the clinic or hospital wards, do yourself a favor and re-energize yourself. Sign up to be a preceptor site for a local medical school and you will find that the practice of medicine can once again be very rewarding.
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