Students: More Than Receivers of Education or Subjects of Medical Education Research

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At the 2016 Association for Medical Education in Europe conference, anyone in a light blue t-shirt was seen as a leader of tomorrow’s medical education. This army of light blue was the conference’s student taskforce. Giving such a prominent role to “mere students” may sound premature to some, as preparing to step into the role of an educator or contributing to medical education research tends to occur much later in one’s career—perhaps upon completing postgraduate specialist training, or upon receiving a formal appointment by an institution to teach junior colleagues. However, I as a humble medical student would like to share an alternative frame of thought. It is my firm belief that involving students and residents in projects in medical education, such as peer tutoring, mentorship, or research, is necessary for a sustainable educational system.
As with leaders in any field, good medical educators should be groomed from a young age. Acquiring skills such as engaging an audience of students and assessing their response to the material are not traditionally incorporated into the requirements of undergraduate or postgraduate curricula. Yet, these are essential to being an effective educator, a role in which many will find themselves eventually because much of medicine is taught and learned in the wards, clinics, and operation theaters from practicing doctors.
A systematic review of undergraduate peer teaching revealed that student teachers benefit academically and professionally.1 This may be because the process of teaching gives one an opportunity to reflect, in a profound manner, on one’s prior learning experiences and hence become a better learner. For example, while teaching, one needs to emphasize key learning points and take-home messages, habits from which learners will also benefit. Without this focus, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the ocean of knowledge, especially for medical students who rotate through many departments to get a broad sense of medicine and surgery.
Such introspection also benefits research projects. I was privileged to contribute to a project on conceptualizing an educational game on urinary catheterization. During this project, my personal learning experience shaped my approach to educational improvement. For instance, I recognized that distributing learning outcomes across various levels in the educational game was important to maintain engagement, based on my experience of feeling quite lost at my first attempt at mastering the skill.
Ultimately, to achieve our aim of grooming good doctors, we must fundamentally define what makes a good doctor. I am convinced that a good doctor is one who delivers excellent patient care and is an effective educator and scholar who actively contributes to the body of research and health care policy. Laying the groundwork for these skills as early as possible will ensure that we are training the good doctors we need for the future of the profession.
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