I'm a DO--And My Day Job Is Teaching

April 21, 2015

“Doctor” comes from the Latin docēre, “to teach.”

“Doctor” comes from the Latin docēre, “to teach.” Physicians of all specialties-and the health care system as a whole-face daunting challenges. In the midst of navigating the sometimes choppy waters of our daily demands- jam-packed schedules, clinical dilemmas, and formulary struggles-we lose sight of why we chose this profession in the first place. So I recently paused to remember some of my reasons. Three insights struck me: (1) Though it’s a delicate balance, I love being able to see patients, conduct research, and teach medical students and residents, while (trying) to do all three with brio; (2) Teaching is a common thread running through all three; and (3) Teaching is an active, two-way exchange in each of these three endeavors. What do I mean?

We teach and learn in the clinic.

Obviously! Much of every day involves educating our patients on everything from fast-acting insulin correction scales, to the potential side effects of a new medication for diabetes.

We’re also teaching our colleagues-nurses, PAs, CDEs, and physicians. We’ll stop by each others’ offices and informally run a perplexing patient by each other.

Our patients are also teaching us. One of mine recently made significant changes to his lifestyle and medication adherence, with a significantly improved A1c and quality of life. He shared, “I knew what I had to do, but I just wasn’t ready. Once I was honest with myself, and really started to put into use what you and your team were recommending, I just kept going. It hasn’t always been easy, but I feel so much better about myself now.”

Teaching and learning are part of our quest for answers-and questions.

Answering our clinical study participants’ questions, sharing our research findings in a presentation, and describing our results in a journal article are ways we teach in this area. When we advance the boundaries of our knowledge just a bit, by asking or answering a question in a new way, our profession benefits. I had the privilege of delivering a presentation on SGLT2 inhibitors last year at the American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Sessions. After the talk, I savored the spark of excitement when sharing a dialogue with more experienced colleagues on their insights into the numerous unanswered questions generated by our research to date.

We both teach and are taught by the ones to whom we pass the torch.

We see that same enthusiasm when our trainees learn a new concept.

I received a teaching award for a third-year student outpatient clinic rotation. Each award was presented by a student. I share part of my student presenter’s remarks here not to self-promote, but to remind all of us of the joy of teaching others.

“The third year of medical school is a stressful and hectic time: shuttling from clinic to clinic, and attending to attending. As a student there are always bright spots in the schedule, attendings you look forward to seeing and working with, and for me that was Dr Chao. Dr Chao was always enthusiastic to have students in his clinic, and eager to teach. There was one morning I came to clinic, there was a snafu and my designated preceptor was away at a meeting, and I was standing in the hallway looking lost and rather confused. The nursing staff promptly directed me to Dr Chao as the most likely to gladly welcome an unscheduled student, and he cheerfully took me in for the day . . . Dr Chao created a environment, where one did not ever feel as a burden but rather felt as a valued member of the team.”

The same third-year student who works with my colleague on Friday mornings works with me that afternoon. What I didn’t think twice about was significant to my student. Sometimes, the teacher is the student.

Please tell us about a recent teaching moment you're proud of.