Neil Chanchlani: Encouraging teachers breed inspired students

Neil ChanchlaniI’m not the type to stay at hospital placement all day long, looking around for things to do. Don’t get me wrong; I do the basics: go to lectures, attend bedside teaching, write up histories, and shadow junior doctors. But I can’t help but feel a strong lack of encouragement from senior doctors and consultants.

It’s not that I need an extra push to do some work, but to make medicine seem interesting and less textbook, it’d be nice to be taught by someone who sees it that same way. I’ve only witnessed a handful of such teachers in my time, but it’s because of them, that I’ve been inspired to think about career paths in their field and attend more optional clinics and ward time in order to have them teach me, and even help them out with ongoing audits and projects.

I’ve been taught by a few consultants that have been so enthused by DXA scans, osteoporosis, and fibromyalgia that it’s made me seriously consider a career in rheumatology. When I tell people this, their usual response is “rheumatology? What a specific specialty. How did you think of that?” but I think it comes down to how encouraging those teachers were in the first place. They would often have me carry out a thorough examination of something relatively simple, like a woman’s hands, or a man’s foot. They were keen to get me to know the examinations inside out for my upcoming exams, and even prepped me with typical exam questions.

Their willingness to help me prompted me to help them, and so I asked, “Any audits or ongoing projects that need a medical student?” Lo and behold, I’ve just finished one and am on to another. A situation that I wouldn’t have put myself in had those doctors not made rheumatology research sound interesting and worthwhile.

Having encouragement as a medical student is vital. We’re at the bottom of the medicinal food chain, and it’s important that our confidence grows over the years spent at university. By the time we’re junior doctors, we are supposed to make decisions with assertion, whilst being respected from our colleagues and patients. This can only be done with effective encouragement and feedback from our seniors.

Not every doctor has time, extensive qualifications, or even resources to teach in an ideal way, but even so, you don’t need a diploma in medical education or a band of junior doctors to inspire students. Spending one-on-one time with students and focusing on what they need to know and how best to teach it to them can all be done at the bedside or even during a clinic. And after all that, hopefully, you’ll find a student inspired enough to help you out.

Neil Chanchlani is a fourth year medical student at the University of Birmingham, and former Clegg Scholar, BMJ.