A few years ago, I asked a junior colleague — who also happened to be a former student — to write me a letter of support for a university award I was nominated for. The reference letters were not required to be confidential, so I had the opportunity to read his letter.
I was indeed mesmerized!
In the letter, my former student referred to a particular encounter that left a long-lasting impression on him, but which I had totally forgotten. It was an encounter that occurred many years prior, during a hospital round.
In the letter, my former student described my concern about the outcome of a patient. He was very sick, and I had laid down detailed management plans. This student and his colleagues, he wrote, they thought I was exaggerating my concerns. He recalled how I had emphasized to the rounding residents and the nursing staff that we should monitor the patient very carefully and very closely, and that I had a “gut feeling” that the patient might not survive the night.
The former student continued that the patient indeed did not survive the night, despite all the proper management and close monitoring. That encounter, he wrote, taught him how to appreciate and value the teaching of his teachers.
When I read this letter, I recalled that encounter, so vividly. I almost teared; I could not imagine that teachers unknowingly may leave such a long-lasting impression on their students.
In September, I was checking out at Meijer, a local grocery chain, when I spotted my favorite magazine: Reader’s Digest.
I have been reading this great magazine for decades.
What caught my attention on the cover page of September’s issue was the title, “The Teacher Who Changed My Life.”
The author, Karin Brulliard from the Washington Post, wrote about her late mother, Mary Jacobson, a retired sixth grade English teacher. Jacobson, Brulliard wrote, had been listening to NPR when she heard an interview with an author named Tamora Pierce. The author, Jacobson learned, had written more than 30 books and numerous short stories featuring young heroines. The author’s name, Jacobson said, sounded familiar.
Could that be the same student Jacobson had taught in sixth grade decades ago? Brulliard immediately went to the internet and checked out Tamora Pierce’s website. Sure enough, it was her, the same Tamora Pierce from her sixth grade class. There was more — upon checking Tamora’s website, Brulliard and her late mother were so touched when they read statements by the author about the role Jacobson had played in shaping her future writing career. You can read the story in full here:
As a teacher in medicine, I felt so attached to Brulliard’s story.
Teacher-doctors teach adults. Postgraduates, that is. Still, they are teachers, and medical students, as well as residents and fellows, are still students.
In a prior post from last spring on this blog, I described the joy that doctor-teachers feel as they interact with medical students and trainees and noted that all medical doctors are considered teachers — to their patients, as well as other health care coworkers.
I have immensely enjoyed teaching.
Teachers, in general, play vital roles in shaping future generations, across all societies. No wonder, teachers are celebrated around the world. It was a coincidence that I wrote this post around the time of the World Teachers Day, celebrated on October 5th. Numerous nations have dedicated annual celebrations on different dates.
As a student, I have always appreciated all my teachers; even during those rare occasions when I thought I did not like a teacher, I would later feel guilty that I had felt that way. One of the biggest moments in my life was the speech that I gave as a 10th grade student at the National Teacher Day Ceremony in Jordan in the mid-1970’s.
Like teaching in general, medical teaching is not an easy job, but it certainly is a rewarding one.
When I read my former student’s letter, I felt the same heart-warming feelings that Jacobson felt when reading the statements of her former student!