“You can’t do what you can’t imagine.”

walkThink back to the time when you made some changes in how you practice medicine and consider the influences that led to the change.

Sometimes we learn from books and lectures and we increase in knowledge in this way, but what really changes our perceptions and actions in what sort of a healthcare professional we will be is to see another at work.

Daniel Tosteson, an innovative Dean of Harvard Medical School, said: “We must acknowledge . . . that the most important, indeed the only, thing we have to offer our students is ourselves. Everything else they can read in a book.”

It can be a puzzle, when we are a student, to know how to change a head full of knowledge into the act of being a healer for patients in every way. The expectations on us are huge and the level of response to this depends a lot on what we have seen. It can be a puzzle as a rising professional to see how to change a service in trouble into a better one for the patients, and it can be a puzzle as a working overworked healthcare professional to see how to escape the despair and excessive workload without recourse to sensitive support into a viable place to continue a career and become great for your patients again. It can be a puzzle for partners wishing to see improvements in the health of their whole population to understand how to do that.

Role modelling – making the most of a powerful teaching strategy1

This helpful paper describes the areas of role modelling – both conscious and subconscious – that go on in medical care and they emphasise how the good role modelling must outweigh the bad.

So now reflect on an influential teacher, doctor or nurse. How did they help? You saw something that you couldn’t imagine, and this inspired you to change. From that moment on you became the role model for others…

Inspirational teachers are those who show good and exceptional care for people, for the art of medicine as a healing process and a healthy respect for others, aware that they themselves do not know everything.

What can be done as a teacher to encourage this process? Strategies are available to help doctors become better role models:

1. Being aware of the impact of what we are modelling (be it positive or negative).

2. Protecting time to facilitate dialogue, reflection, and debriefing with students.

3. Making a conscious effort to articulate what we are modelling, and to make the implicit explicit.

Remember, a great teacher can change the trajectory of your life. But change needs to come from a vision of what things could be like – for your hospital, your practice, your clinical team.

Can you see a vision for the future? Look for advice and inspiration from role models of effective change.

1 http://www.bmj.com/content/336/7646/718

Going further:  What makes inspirational teachers inspirational?

Dr Ros Simpson

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