Department: Called to Teach
From the vantage point of retirement, I have spent hours reflecting on my experiences in clinical instruction—both as student and educator. As a student in my first clinical course, what did I dread? As an educator, what skills did students find difficult to master? I found I did not consciously reflect on my student experiences when I developed teaching techniques to reduce student stress while improving communication skills. In retrospect, I believe the Holy Spirit was as much a part of my unconscious problem solving as my experience. The Spirit prompted me to look for answers to such questions as, “How did Jesus teach the disciples?” and “What can I learn about teaching from Jesus?”
I distinctly remember my first clinical day as a student. To say I was petrified would be an understatement! There I stood in my starched white lab coat at the door of the university hospital outpatient clinic. All I had with me was a tablet and pencil to jot notes. My assignment was simple—or so it sounded. I was to engage three persons waiting to be seen in a conversation with the goal of learning why they had come. As I interacted with them, I was to observe their appearance, nonverbal communication, and the general milieu. After each interaction, I was to step away and write down all that I could remember about what I had seen and heard. While the assignment sounded simple, I had no idea how to start a conversation in this setting.
Years passed. I eventually enjoyed proficiency in clinical practice. However, when God called me to teach I once again became the frightened and incompetent novice. A major frustration was students' inability to effectively communicate with patients. I remember on the second week in the hospital I asked one student, “Is your patient uncomfortable this morning?” The student's response was, “I don't know.” I asked another, “What did the man you're caring for tell you about why he came to the hospital last night?” The student answered that he had been too busy getting his vital signs to ask. Another student said her patient just cried quietly and would not talk. In each of the above instances, I returned to each patient with the student in the role of observer and, using therapeutic communication skills, modeled how to ascertain the degree of the patient's discomfort, chief complaint, or reason for tears. Afterwards, in so many words, each student said, “that was so easy for you.” In retrospect, I am ashamed now that I did not remember how I felt my first clinical days because I was so consumed with being a “good teacher!”
Following these encounters, I decided a better way to teach effective communication was to have students first observe me demonstrate basic principles of communication with patients and families. Students accompanied me, then listened and observed carefully while I took responsibility for the communication. After leaving the room, we discussed all they had observed. Within a few weeks students were much more comfortable and proficient in communication and observation.
Reflecting on this teaching technique, I realized I had unconsciously followed a major teaching method of Jesus. In Luke 6:40 (NIV) Jesus said, “The student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.” For more than a year Jesus had the disciples with him as he healed all manner of sicknesses including fevers, blindness, demon possession, severe pain, and paralysis. Then, in the ninth chapter of Luke the gospel writer says that after giving specific directions Jesus sent the 12 disciples out on their own to teach and heal. When they returned they reported what they had done. The disciples (students) had observed the teacher demonstrate the skills they were to do, were sent to perform work independently, and returned to report outcomes. I'm now asking myself as I read the four Gospels, “What can I learn about teaching from Jesus?” I invite you to share thoughts you have had and look for additional applications. Our Savior and Healer was a Master Teacher—it is of benefit to us as educators to learn from Christ's teaching methods.