Improving Medical Education by Improving Its Instructors

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As a medical student, I have heard different approaches to shaping the curriculum, ranging from emphasizing more team-based learning (TBL) to employing competency-based education. Rather than finding out which teaching methods work best for students, we should go back to the foundation of good teaching.
I serve on a course review committee, and I recall two classes that stood out the most: a basic pharmacology course led by all PhD instructors, and a clinical pathology course directed by MDs. The teaching styles for these two classes were very dissimilar: The former was lecture based, and the latter was centered on TBL. Both courses received universal acclaim from students, and the learners scored well on the standardized exams. How could this be?
Most members of the course review committee agreed that the courses’ success could be attributed to three common themes: (1) strong leadership from the instructor of record, (2) small number of lecturers, and (3) responsiveness to feedback. When the students have an organized point person they can depend on, the course naturally feels less chaotic. The learners can focus on learning instead of guessing about several lecturers’ differing expectations. Furthermore, if the instructors listen to comments and feedback, the course unsurprisingly improves and becomes a good learning environment. I have seen courses that are either TBL based or lecture focused that lack any one of these themes, and they ended up falling short in the course evaluations.
I write not to criticize the curriculum reforms and innovative teaching methods happening across the country. Rather, I invite all leaders to go back to the foundation of good teaching. Recruiting outstanding educators and preparing faculty to be great teachers remain important but underrepresented topics in medical education.1,2 Hatem and colleagues3 discuss in depth the important characteristics of a medical educator in their article, some of which I have touched on here. Strong instructors are the backbone of medical education, and we should not settle for anything less than excellence.
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