Teaching Physicians to Teach: The Underappreciated Path to Improving Patient Outcomes

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The word doctor stems from the Latin docere, meaning to teach. As doctors, it is time for us to take ownership of the role that is inherent in our name. By investing in the underpinnings of teaching and learning throughout the continuum, we can improve both our educational experience and patient care. Further, in recognition that inequities such as the social determinants of health are inextricably linked to patient outcomes, we must equip physicians to intervene at the bedside. There is perhaps no more effective tool than patient education. To do this effectively, we must strengthen the relationship between being a doctor and being a teacher.
Physicians, whether or not they have an academic role, teach every day through preventive counseling, introducing new diagnoses, and negotiating treatment options. To effectively serve as teachers to patients, trainees must first be introduced to what effective educational approaches are. We cannot expect our colleagues to relate relevant information to their patients about diabetes, an insulin regimen, or lifestyle choices when they are unaware of the principles that govern adult learning.
Teaching, quite simply, is the facilitation of learning. Sensitizing learners to the processes that govern teaching will ensure they relate information more effectively to patients and apply these same principles to their own learning.
To better associate the role between physician and teacher, we cannot merely add a lecture to the curriculum and expect learners to incorporate these skills into practice. Instead, we must develop a longitudinal, spiral curriculum highlighting the need to be an effective educator.1 This does not necessarily require additional courses or lectures but, rather, a mindfulness about places in the curriculum where trainees already learn how to learn. By better orienting medical learners to the principles of effective teaching and learning, lifelong learning becomes a more central theme to the curriculum.
As medical knowledge becomes rapidly outdated,2 it is critical for trainees to become effective lifelong learners and educators. But until medical education truly begins to emphasize and embrace the role of the physician as a teacher,3 we cannot expect the health of our population to improve.
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