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Teaching and Learning Moments

Dr. Whitman is professor, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of Utah School of Medicine, Salt Lake City〉.

Last year, my wife Elaine and I attended a performance at the University of Utah by the Billy Taylor Jazz trio with a guest saxophonist, Salt Lake City's Greg Floor. The concert format included a question-and-answer period. One audience member asked for the source of each musician's “inner direction.” As a medical educator, it seems to me that medical teachers would benefit from considering their own inner directions, as articulated by these jazz musicians.

Drummer Sherman Ferguson said that playing music was a gift from God and that he was put on Earth to share that gift with others. Is academic medicine producing educators who believe that teaching is a gift from a higher power and feel that being a medical educator is what they are born to be?

Bassist Chip Jackson said that when things go right he has an out-of-body experience that allows him to step outside himself and watch himself play music and wonder, “How did I do that?” For him, this is a rare experience, and his desire to play comes from looking for this to happen. As medical educators, do we seek the harmony that makes teaching a “flow experience,”1 allowing us to step outside ourselves and witness the magic of the moment?

Saxophonist Gregg Floor, the ensemble's youngest member, explained that in the beginning of his career, his motivation came from the “flash” of playing fast, of playing a lot of notes. Now, with a bit of maturity, he is learning that his relationships with the other band members and the audience are more important. Are we, as medical educators, interested only in the sheer quantity of information we transmit, or rather, in the quality of the teacher—learner interaction? Do we feel joy when a student grasps a new concept?

Pianist Billy Taylor summed it all up, stating that no two performances are the same; the interaction among the musicians and the response of the audience make each performance a new experience. His motivation to perform comes from knowing that it will be different every time he walks onto the stage. Do we, as medical educators, find opportunities for new experiences in every classroom and clinical setting? Do those new experiences keep us alive and make life worth living?

The concert, by the way, was fabulous. As I listened to the threads of music, separately and in combination, I reflected that learning opportunities abound—even at a jazz concert.

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1. Csikszentmihalyi M. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial, 1990.
© 2002 Association of American Medical Colleges