Tuesday, 27 March 2012

See one. Do one. Teach one.

Posted by Jean Adams

There was a time when finding a man who was having trouble urinating was my main preoccupation in life.

I was a final year medical student and "insert a male urinary catheter" was the final, unchecked, procedure in my log book.

In a dingy corner of the male elderly care ward, I found what I was looking for. A man with a full bladder in great pain. Unfortunately, the final tick in my log book was not to be that day. I admitted to the attending doctor that my only knowledge of catheterisation technique came from a textbook.

All set up and no-one to catheterise
There is an old adage in medical education: see one, do one, teach one. The implication is supposed to be that you'd better be a quick learner, because you don't get much practice in medicine. For me, the implication was that I needed two men who couldn't pee - one to watch being catheterised by someone else, one to catheterise myself.

I think many medics escape to academia because they want a chance to slow down and think problems through, without a constant need to do something, quickly.

Perhaps there is more time to think, this side of the fence. But, ironically, when I'm in the classroom, I quite often feel that I have skipped the "do one" stage.

This week I was teaching our MSc students how to write a press release. I have read a number of press releases in my life; I have sat in how to write press releases workshops; I have even submitted model press releases for assignments; but I have never, ever written a real-life press release myself, let alone a successful one that is picked up by the media.

Delivering a newly devised teaching session for the first time is always a bit nervy. The seat of my pants gets a little frayed. This one had an extra edge of tension. I don't feel an expert in any of the things I teach, but I have come to the realisation that I, if nothing else, have generally thought and read more about the topic than the students. If I have done some actual, published research on it, that alway makes me feel a little more secure in my expertise.

This time, I had nothing but my status as 'lecturer' to carry me through. Early on, I fell back on the rather cruel technique of the trick question to make sure everyone was on their guard. I chose ridiculously bad examples of press releases from other universities to make the students laugh. I filled the time by getting them to do their own writing so that I didn't have to do any of my own. I quite often found myself wondering if what I was saying made any sense at all.

Now I am starting to wonder how many other things I teach without first doing; or do without first seeing. Luckily, my pant drawer is well stocked.

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