Iron Sharpens Iron

Photo Credit: Dave Mathis

If there is not always one correct answer, why are we so afraid of providing the wrong answer? In academic settings, stimulating thought processes is more important than controlling a trainees' thinking. Many of us have sensed hesitation when asking someone their thoughts. Not because the response stirring in their mind is wrong but because they were not sure if it was the answer that the questioner was seeking.

Having been fortunate to be surrounded by receptive practitioners, I have witnessed what it means to be a good teacher. In complex cases, I've observed how to gently explain what a better answer might be (which might even be to agree on disagreeing). Sometimes there isn't one single answer - you can achieve the same result through a different path. A patient suffering from hypertension may benefit from several different medications. Choosing one drug over another that fall under the same category to treat a patient is ACTUALLY OKAY.

On the other hand, many of us have encountered providers who have been adamant that their way is the only way. Being so fixated on how they want things done, medicine quickly turns from a field of comradely to one filled with hostility. For some reason, when an answer is provided that falls short of what they were expecting to hear, frustration ensues. Interestingly, the culture of medicine has made this approach seemingly okay. Why in medicine is it considered a form of normalcy for healthcare providers to respond so brashly?

Each practitioner should be viewed as an artist. Teaching should not equate to removing the brush from a persons hand and creating your own masterpiece. We should observe the work of art in progress, and when necessary hold one another's hand and guide each stroke of paint. In a field that emphasizes lifelong learning, practitioners must take self-responsibility to ensure they are creating a conducive learning environment. A good clinical teacher must be competent, possess interpersonal skills, must be approachable, nonjudgmental, and be willing for provide constructive feedback.