Leadership & Professional Development: A Letter to the Future Teaching Physician

group of doctors in seminar
Photo credit: Mediteraneo/Adobe Stock

“No one cares how much you know, until they know how much you care.”
—Theodore Roosevelt (attributed)

Like many early career clinician-educators, you are likely embarking on your teaching role with excitement and trepidation. Excitement accompanies the opportunity to develop the next generation of physicians. Trepidation arises from a fear of insufficient knowledge. This concern is understandable but misplaced: great teachers are great because of their emotional intelligence, not their medical intelligence. These five principles will help you establish an optimal learning environment.

Small-Talk before Med-Talk. “What do you like to do outside of the hospital?” “Where is your favorite place to eat?” These questions indicate that your interest in learners transcends clinical work. Leaders who are more relationship- than task-oriented achieve greater group cohesion and more team learning. Exemplary inpatient attending physicians use learners' first names and get to know them on a personal level to signal that they care as much about the person as they do about the performance.1

Be Available. Medical educators balance supervision and autonomy while trainees engage in high-stakes decisions. The best teachers get this right by signaling “I have faith in you” and “I'm always available.” Clinician-educator Kimberly Manning, MD portrayed this balance in a recent Twitter thread. The resident called: “I am sorry to bother you.” Dr. Manning responded, “Never be sorry.” The resident was concerned about a patient with new abdominal pain but reassured Dr. Manning that she did not need to return to the hospital. She returned anyway. She assessed the patient and had nothing to add to the resident's outstanding management. As the patient recovered from his operation for a perforated ulcer, Dr. Manning reflected, “On a perfect Saturday afternoon, I chose to return to the hospital. To make not one decision or write one single order. But instead to stand beside my resident and intentionally affirm her.”

Click here to read about the other three principles.

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