Romeo reports receiving royalties from, being on the speakers bureau and a consultant for, and doing contracted research for Arthrex.
We have had many educators in our professional and personal lives. The most influential ones have become permanent fixtures in all that we do, inspiring our best work and influencing how we live our lives.
At any level, impactful educators are with students long after interactions have ended, reflected in one’s work, thoughts and actions. The impact can stem from years together or a few key moments that shaped the future. We develop great admiration and aspire to impact others as they form their moral, spiritual and professional compasses.
Some influential educators may perceive their efforts as one of many in a life of purpose and value. A thankful gesture later in life is a powerful affirmation of their lifelong commitment to teaching and learning.
Students rely on experiences to help determine priorities and purpose in life. Without exposure to educators and mentors early during one’s career, opportunities to follow a fulfilling path may be lost. This effect can be seen in orthopedics in the struggle to inspire a reasonable number of the more than 50% of medical students who are women to become orthopedic surgeons. Fortunately, establishing opportunities to teach female high school and college students about orthopedics, along with strengthening the number and role of female orthopedic surgeons in residency education positions, has improved efforts to create a profession that is better reflective of society.
Considering the key role of educators in our lives, it is surprising how many orthopedic surgeons limit or avoid the chance to teach. Working with students and resident physicians at any level may be perceived to affect professional and personal goals. This is then reinforced by administrators who perceive any academic effort as a distraction from reaching the full potential of patient care and surgical procedures. It is disappointing when physician leaders hold these beliefs as if they have forgotten the process that supported their own professional growth.
Education and mentorship require a time commitment that is less available each year given the challenges of practicing medicine. With an estimated one-third of orthopedic surgeons reporting symptoms of burnout, the pool of potential educators has been diminished and could potentially be tainted with negative sentiments on the practice of orthopedics. Many orthopedic groups have built-in disincentives to teaching, implying this should be part of the surgeon’s personal time and not an enhancement of professional responsibilities. Some academic groups require a certain amount of time be committed to academic pursuits but penalize committed educators with fewer resources and support for clinical practices.
With today’s challenges, there is a rapid decrease in the value of being an educator, mostly due to the metrics of finance, or profit, being more important than patient care to determine a surgeon’s worth to the system. This is shortsighted and driven by the business of health care that focuses on the internal rate of return on assets and investments, which drive decisions based on months, not years.
Being an educator should be deemed a long-term asset. It improves the educator’s resistance to burnout, professional satisfaction and reputation. These factors will also support development of more efficient and profitable practices.
Reasons to teach
There are many reasons to aspire to be the educators we admired during our formative years in orthopedics. One of the most powerful ways to learn and expand knowledge is to teach. This effort requires a deeper understanding and level of communication that enhances the ability to speak to patients and others involved in patient care.
The word “doctor” comes from the Latin verb “docere,” meaning “to teach” or “to be a scholar.” The best doctors are known for shared decisions with patients, which require some teaching to have fair participation in the process.
Paying it forward fosters the balance in life. Someone invested in us to become who we are today, working to improve patients’ lives and our communities, and we should invest in the next generation. Efforts toward students are often not immediately realized, but there is pride in seeing our influence realized in these students’ future accomplishments.
Investing in educating future health care providers gives us purpose, has long-term value and improves our knowledge and expertise. It inevitably produces a network of professionals who often become lifelong friends with mutual interests and devotion to the noble profession of education.
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- Anthony A. Romeo, MD, is the Chief Medical Editor of Orthopedics Today. He can be reached at Orthopedics Today, 6900 Grove Road, Thorofare, NJ 08086; email: email@example.com.