Ann Donnelly: Synapses and syntax

I look around at four pairs of bright eyes, eager for knowledge, pens poised, and I gulp with nerves.

In my post as clinical assistant in neurology, one of my sessions includes teaching medical students.
It should be a breeze, I’ve recently passed my MRCP, I’ve got a certificate for teaching and my medical career has been a love affair with neurology since the early days of discovering synaptic transmission. During my neuroscience degree, when a handsome scientist peered over his microscope and asked me “What’s your favourite neurotransmitter?” my heart skipped a beat—he was speaking my language.

But standing in front of the pulsing brains of the UK’s finest medical students I feel the weight of responsibility upon me. What if a chance comment from me leads them to miss a vital clue, years later, when they are in A&E? Taking a deep breath, I begin.

The spectrum of medical teaching comes in a rainbow of eclectic styles. There is the classic, old school terror teaching, where one terrified student gets quizzed and challenged while their classmates sweat silently by, praying for escape. This is becoming increasingly rare as a style, although it is excellent preparation for the post take ward round. Survival of a barrage of questions like this is often the best way of earning grudging respect from a fearsome intellect. After all, they are doctors too, they care for people, and often the impatience displayed is a fear that the next generation will not strive for perfection as they have done.
The other styles vary from regaling students with anecdotes, often highlighting crucial principles of care in unforgettable ways, to plodding through lists (probably the most useful overall).

I look forward to reaching the stage when I can calmly sit back, grin wickedly and, when asked a particularly searching question, suggest ‘Why don’t you find out and present it to me next week?’

Editor’s note: Ann is currently a part time clinical editor at BMJ Health Intelligence.