UBC Faculty Research and Publications

Frontline learning of medical teaching: “you pick up as you go through work and practice” Hartford, W.; Nimmon, L.; Stenfors, T.


Background: Few medical teachers have received formal teaching education. Along with individual and organizational barriers to participation in teacher training programs, increasing numbers and altered distribution of physicians away from major teaching centers have increased the difficulty of attendance. Furthermore, it is not known if traditional faculty development formats are the optimal learning options given findings from existing studies document both positive and negative outcomes. There is a gap in research that explores how medical teachers learn to teach and also limited research regarding how medical teachers actually teach. The purpose of this study was to provide insight into how physicians describe their teaching of trainees, and the nature of their teaching development and improvement to inform faculty development programs. Methods: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 36 physicians, with a broad range of teaching experience, purposefully selected from five disciplines: Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Psychiatry, Surgery, and Family Medicine. A qualitative, inductive approach was used to analyse the data. Results: Teaching was described as being centered on the needs of individual trainees, but was dependent on patient presentation and environmental context. For this group of physicians learning to teach was perceived as a dynamic and evolving process influenced by multiple life experiences. The physicians had not learnt to teach through formal education and then put that learning into practice, but had learnt to teach and improve their teaching through their trial and errors teaching. Life experiences unconnected with the medical environment contributed to their knowledge of teaching along with limited formal learning to teach experiences. Teaching practice was influenced by peers and trainees, feedback, and observation. The findings suggest these medical teachers learn to teach along a continuum largely through their teaching practice. Conclusion: The findings suggested that the participants’ major resource for learning how to teach was informal experiential learning, both in and out of the workplace. This may have implications for faculty development strategies for medical teaching education.

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