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Life's Chemistry Press

Teaching others: a way of giving back

By Juman Hijab

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Original date: June 22, 2020  

Updated: June 11, 2023

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Teaching others: A way of giving back

From being mediocre

When I was early in my clinical years, I was asked to teach clinical medicine to first year psychiatry residents. This was to ensure that they were comfortable with the management of common medical conditions even though their focus was the mental health of the patient. 

I was not good, not even close. And I felt that there was little interest on the part of the residents to learn Medicine. Looking back I can see clearly that I was a large part of the problem.

I did not have confidence in my clinical skills. I was still in my learning phase. And I was working outside my comfort zone at that time. It is no wonder that the residents were uncomfortable learning from me. I was as tense as a tightrope.

To giving value

Of course, I have learned since then that it is possible to build one's confidence. I have been fortunate to work at the VA Medical Center in VA Boston. The system and its leaders have mentored me to bring out my strongest qualities. 

I have been able to teach using the methods I had ingrained in me through my Alma Mater, the American University of Beirut.

Teaching others through asking questions 

I did my medical school training and Family Medicine Residency at the AUB. Teaching was through asking questions... and waiting for the answer. It is as if it were yesterday when we would sit in the conference room - quaking - waiting to see which patient's chart the Chairman of the Department of Pediatrics would choose for the weekly rounds. It was not that long ago that the Chief Surgical Resident would hand me the chalk to come up to the board to explain a surgical complication. 

That training has come full circle. Now when I teach residents and students, I am relaxed; my focus is on introducing concepts. And how to integrate those concepts into clinical practice. Learners early in their career can look up information on their own from a myriad of apps and articles. My value is in helping young clinicians increase their confidence in their thinking skills. 

I appreciate the power of strong mentorship; I have been fortunate to have that. I value the ability to learn something new everyday. I would like to give back whenever I can. 

Teaching others: learning the concepts myself

I believe that there are patterns through which molecules work to create health and disease. A thread that is not too complicated. For example, mitochondria are stuffed with molecules that are not as acidic as those in lysosomes. 

To find the simplest pattern is not as easy as it sounds. There are oceans of research on mitochondria and lysosomes. If there had been a simple explanation for why they are vastly different, this would have become apparent by now.

Which means that I have to take a different approach to learning the concepts myself. It is through this struggle that I believe that a simpler model for the biochemistry of life will emerge. After all, cells don't think: They just react to the environment that is in front of them.

Through understanding the concepts at the third level, I am confident that I will become adept at teaching others. 


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