BLOG: The rewards of becoming a doctor-teacher
Picture this: You see patients with students or trainees in clinics or on hospital rounds every day. During these encounters, you teach them, and you learn from them. Then you attend daily (or weekly, or monthly or biweekly) morning reports, grand rounds, didactics, journal clubs, radiology meetings, case discussions, mortality morbidity meetings, etc. You literally have nonstop, ongoing updating of medical knowledge. You have protected time for teaching and to attend teaching activities.
Compare this to working in a nonteaching setting: You see patients every day in clinics or on hospital rounds. You may attend a grand round (as available and per time availability). You can attend a national annual meeting, and by doing this you will certainly boost your medical knowledge.
This is not to say that academic doctors are more important than non-academic doctors. Nor is this to say that nonacademic doctors are less credentialed or qualified to practice medicine. It goes without saying that regulations in medical licensing and board examination, around the world, guarantee that all doctors stay up-to-date to be able to continue to practice medicine.
And obviously, not all doctors are interested in teaching or academia. Certainly, there are other issues, especially the issue of income and the issue of favoring self-employment and autonomy vs. employment by institutions with all the regulations and bureaucratic hassles.
In my case, it was difficult to stay well up-to-date outside of academia. It became so hard to study from textbooks or journal articles when I would work all day seeing patients in clinic, and do the hospital rounds before or after clinics. I would go home late in the day, extremely exhausted; then there is my wife and the kids and the family obligations. After the first few years in private practice, I felt like I lost about 50% of medical knowledge.
Today, March 21, is a special day for me. When I was student in Jordan, Teacher’s Day was celebrated on March 21. Nowadays, the celebration is held in October. As I explained in a prior post, the change in the timing of the annual celebration was adopted after the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization declared Oct. 5 as “World Teacher’s Day” in 1995.
On this occasion of the original date, I wish to salute all doctor-teachers.
The “doctor-teacher” status is used herein to refer to medical doctors who choose the academic career path. There is no doubt that all medical doctors are considered teachers: teachers to their patients, as well as to other health care coworkers.
In my case, having been a medical doctor since 1984, I have worked in teaching and nonteaching settings.
In 1996, after I completed the last part of my postgraduate training in endocrinology at Indiana University, I started my career journey in private practice in Cape Girardeau and Sikeston, Missouri. It was a wonderful 3-year period, in a beautiful part of the heartland. As a foreign medical graduate, this employment in an underserved rural community allowed me to obtain U.S. residence status, which ultimately lead to becoming a U.S. citizen.
However, those 3 years left me yearning to update my medical knowledge. Even going to medical conferences and symposia could not salvage the decaying knowledge nor fill the growing knowledge gaps.
As I was planning the next station in my career, I genuinely considered academic medicine. In 2005, my dream came true when I was accepted for employment by Michigan State University, joining the medical faculty as a junior endocrinologist (assistant professor).
Fast-forward, I have accomplished my lifelong plans of academic achievements and academic ranking. Looking back at my career journey, now that I am turning 60 next month, with a 35-year medical career, I feel that moving to academia was the best career decision I have made.
Academia is the best vehicle for doctors to stay up-to-date with medical knowledge. Having students, residents and fellows around at all times is invaluable. There is nothing better than exchanging knowledge between people in person, as compared to solo reading. I still read — a study here or there, an article here or there — but there is just not enough time to learn all the new updates by reading alone.
A few weeks ago, I was chatting with a colleague, around my age. He is a subspecialist who has similarly been a doctor for over 3 decades. He had always worked in private practice, until 2 years ago, when he decided to join a university.
He said to me over the phone: “Let me let you on a secret. Despite the lower income in academia, I came to learn that there are other rewards in the medical profession: The gratifying rewards of teaching. I had never enjoyed being a doctor like I am nowadays.”
I told him that his secret resonated with me wholeheartedly; I experienced the same feeling many years ago.
“After completing fellowship training, in the first few years of my career outside of teaching, I had felt like a fish which was taken out of water!” I said.
So, on March 21, in remembrance of the original Teacher’s Day, I wish to salute all doctors who work in academia and other teaching institutions who teach the new generations of future doctors.
And, on March 21, I wish to salute all teachers of the world.