Editor's Forum

The Resident as Teacher

Why Other Trainees Look to us to Learn

Morgan Sweere.jpeg
Morgan Sweere, MD
Editor-in-Chief, EM Resident
University of Florida - Jacksonville

“I’m gonna be a teacher, just like Mom!” 

I grew up in a classroom. Every August, I recall spending a couple of Saturdays hot-gluing posters to the wall, stapling decorations to the cork boards, and occasionally racing the office chairs down the hallway with my brother. We all pick up different things we don’t realize we do from our parents. Even though I said I wanted to be just like my mom when I was little, I knew from a pretty young age that I wanted to be a doctor. It boggles my mind that it took me until my mid-20s to realize I still wanted to be a teacher and that these could, in fact, be the same job.

The Latin word for doctor, docere, means “to teach.” Teaching is, without a doubt, a core part of being a physician. We teach our patients every day. We teach ourselves medicine often. And at some point during our training, we all become a teacher to other trainees.

I think the moment I truly became a teacher to other residents was during my second month of PGY-2, when I was a senior in the MICU. I felt vastly inadequate to be teaching the intern on my team anything about critical care medicine. I was just an intern myself a month ago. What qualifies me to teach other trainees? I read a lot of personal development books, and I kept coming back to this quote from Ed Mylett’s The Power of One More:

“You are most qualified to help the person you once were.”

While there is a myriad of advice on how to transition to being a first-year resident, there is little advice on how to become an upper level, despite the transition to second year being often touted as the most difficult. Many of us may be in this same mindset I was earlier this year at one point or another. Even though it may not feel like it at the time, we may actually be the best choice in some moments to teach other trainees. Though I’ve certainly learned a significant amount from my attendings, I’ve learned a lot about medicine from watching and from the advice of my upper-level residents.

As fellow residents, we have a unique relationship with one another. This role as resident and teacher is a responsibility, but it is also an opportunity. We can cultivate a learning environment for each other that is one we would have benefitted from. We are close enough to the role to understand the best ways to learn and the most helpful feedback that can lead to success. Feedback and advice are often more freely and openly accepted.

When you think about your role, wherever you are in your training, I would urge you to think of yourself as a teacher as much as you do as that of a lifelong learner. At its core, that is one of the main goals of EM Resident: to give residents an opportunity to enter that role and share their insights. We’ve all had great teachers throughout our lives who have helped us get to this point. Now, it’s time to be one.

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