One of the challenges a new academic hospitalist faces is trying to become a valued member of the teaching faculty. You are intent on becoming that next great attending you have always aspired to be; however, no one has clearly guided you on making this transition. In our experience, a handful of common teaching pitfalls frequently unravel the best efforts of young hospitalists. Below, you will find five strategies to take your teaching to the next level.
1. Don’t Try to Be Attending AND Resident.
Being a hospitalist attending is distinctly different than being a resident. It certainly is not being a “super-resident,” PGY-4, or PGY-17 for the team. When challenged with a new role and greater responsibility, it is natural to default to a more comfortable position (i.e., the hands-on mindset of the resident), but by doing so, you encroach on the work of the actual resident on your team. Adult learning theory teaches that it is responsibility that is the cornerstone of adult motivation. Trainees must have a chance to perform the work expected of their position without interference.
Let the resident be the resident. To reach this goal, set clear expectations and discuss the expectations up front. Make sure that you draw a sharp line between where the responsibility of the resident ends and yours begins. Have your resident help set her own expectations for the team, as well. This empowers the resident and also gives you insight into her view of the team dynamics. Your expectations should vary with the ability of the learner and the time of year. For example, the degree of autonomy that you may give a second-year resident in July is much less than what you might give a ready-to-graduate, third-year resident in June.
If granting autonomy makes you uncomfortable, observe your trainees from a distance for your own reassurance. Read the electronic medical record in depth; follow up on orders after attending rounds. If you don’t like a treatment decision, step in without inducing undue shame. After all, this is why residents are still in training, and it gives you the chance to demonstrate how to turn good care into great care.
2. Make Sure You Get to Know Your Trainees
Getting to know your trainees seems so simple that it often gets overlooked. Yet this may be the way your teaching and role modeling make their greatest impact. For adults to thrive in a learning environment, inclusion is key. There is no better way to feel included than to feel known. Inclusion allows learners to feel comfortable with being vulnerable by answering questions, asking questions, interacting, and participating in a meaningful manner on rounds. Consider your own behavior: How comfortable are you asking a question among a large audience of strangers versus asking the same question in a small group of friends? Inclusion will affect behavior.
Engage in “biographic rounds” near the start of your time together. As the attending, set the example by telling your trainees about yourself. Let them know where you are from, where you trained, what led you to choose hospital medicine, and some details about what you do in your spare time. Personal information will help break down the artificial walls that separate attendings from trainees.
Allow every member of your team to tell his or her story. It may not seem like much to you, but the effect on learners has been well established. If you invest in them, they will invest in the team.
3. Make Time to Observe Your Learners
You are responsible for evaluation and feedback of all your learners. Many factors contribute to poor feedback, but one of the most important is that new attendings often do not make a conscious effort to observe their learners. These attendings struggle to give meaningful feedback.