• 5 Tips for Navigating Your New Role as a Teacher

    Teaching ophthalmology learners is one of the great honors we have as attendings. 

    Being able to hone and influence the next generation of ophthalmologists is an exciting, albeit sometimes daunting, task. As teaching roles expand from university-only positions to include practice types such as hybrid and private practices, more of us are put in the role of teacher. 

    The word "doctor" is derived from the latin verb "docere," which means "to teach." By definition, all are teachers — so getting comfortable early on will pay dividends throughout a lifelong career. Here are five tips for making the most of your role as teacher. 

    1. Find your niche.

    What makes you buzz with excitement? Where do your internet rabbit holes lead? Think outside the box here. Many of us are not heavy-duty researchers, and that’s great! 

    Find what you love, and figure out how that can benefit your career. Be the person others seek for specialized knowledge. Write papers about that topic, and explore what research is possible. It’s easy to feel pressure to perform traditional research, but medicine is so much more than that! Departments need variety, and variety allows departments to thrive. Consider the following for ideas:

    • Teaching
    • Coaching medical students
    • Community outreach
    • Resident education

    2. Make sure you know the rules for your own success.

    Promotion, tenure and partnership all have processes you must follow if you want to advance. Ask yourself the following questions:

    • What is required for my next step?
    • Am I set up to meet the needed targets?
    • If not, how do I get there?

    Remember that the unwritten rules are just as important. Pay attention to the politics of your department.

    • Who do I need to know?
    • What relationships do I need to build?

    Academic promotion typically requires accomplishments in teaching, service, and scholarship. Partner roles will likely require something different. Know what you need at the beginning so that you can set yourself up for success later.

    3. Learn about teaching strategies.

    Channel the experience of every mind-numbing presentation and lecture you’ve ever attended where the speaker read from a poorly crafted PowerPoint. Feel it? The need for more caffeine and possibly a run in the opposite direction of wherever you were? Don’t do that to other people.

    Adult learners retain information better when you provide the framework and they fill in the details. How do you do that? To start, read up on new ways to teach. Channel your favorite teacher/mentor and really consider what sets them apart. And, if you need some inspiration on how to add pizazz, search the following:

    • Flipped classroom learning (Students work on cases in class and read up on related material outside of session.)
    • Audience participation
    • Team-based learning
    • Case-based learning

    4. Learn how to give and receive feedback.

    Having just finished residency, giving and receiving feedback well should feel very familiar. Had trouble with it before? Today is a great day to work on getting comfortable with it. Even if you think your lecture on inherited retinal disorders is the bee’s knees, if it’s ineffective for the learner, it didn’t achieve the goal. And speaking at adult learners with no consideration to how the information is being received is a perfect recipe for an awful outcome (and someone remembering you as the mind-numbing lecturer). Need tips?

    • Check in with your learners throughout the interaction. See how they experience your teaching in the OR, clinic and classroom.
    • Practice giving feedback. This is an art, and honesty without tact is akin to cruelty (and a recipe for losing a teaching opportunity). Give clear, actionable and measurable feedback in such a way that the learner can incorporate it, craft goals around it and grow from it.
    • Rely on clear examples — seek examples when receiving feedback if you need clarity and offer examples to your learners when you give feedback
    • Mind your mind. You’re human and have peeves and emotions. Don’t let those obscure a valuable experience.  

    5. Set ground rules.

    Learners are most likely to be successful if they know what the requirements for success are at the beginning of an interaction. We all do better with structure and when we know the rules of play. One of the most helpful things you can do is provide that structure in a clear and accessible way. Set expectations early and be clear if the expectations vary by setting (lectures, clinic, OR, etc.)

    A bonus tip, for good measure:

    6. Keep learning.

    Medicine is a profession for lifelong learners. This means that being a teacher is both a dynamic and fluid role. Set a good example for your learners by seeking out new information and incorporating the new into your practice. Read journals (not just ophthalmology) and demonstrate your commitment to advancing the profession by incorporating DEI into your learnings and your practice. Most importantly, be humble enough to move into the role of learner whenever the opportunity presents, especially if it involves one of your learners becoming your teacher. 

    Being a teacher is one of the most exciting and gratifying roles we have as attendings and also one of the most important to our field. I’m sure you can name an amazing teacher that influenced your journey. Cheers to you being the amazing teacher in someone else’s!

    Jessica D. Randolph, MD About the author: Jessica D. Randolph, MD, is a vitreoretinal surgeon, assistant professor of ophthalmology and medical student educator at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Va. She joined the YO Info editorial board in 2021.