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What makes a good clinical educator?

Nikita Joshi, MD |

apple ExpertPeerReviewStamp2x200In this constantly evolving world of learner competencies, assessments, and milestones often is forgotten the important role of clinical teachers. We can all remember clinical instructors that stand out despite the grueling years of medical school and residency training. We admired them for various reasons and remember the insights and teaching pearls they bestowed upon us. But what exactly were the qualities that they possessed that other instructors did not have? What exactly did they have that made them a good clinical teacher in medicine?

Good Clinical Educator

The authors of the 2008 Academic Medicine paper “What makes a good clinical teacher?” wanted to know exactly that. 1 And so they did a qualitative analysis of 68 articles, essays, and public addresses published from 1909-2006 . Surprisingly, they found that those qualities listed more often were noncognitive skills although cognitive skills were definitely highly considered.

Noncognitive skills were defined as relationship skills, emotional states, and personality types. Examples of this included those instructors who were inspiring and motivating – encouraging learners to be the best that they could be. Cognitive skills were defined as those involving perception, memory, judgment, reasoning, and procedural skills. An example would be good medical decision making for patients with chest pain.

The most common themes the authors found to be present in good clinical teachers in medicine included:

  1. Medical / clinical knowledge
  2. Clinical and technical skills / competence, clinical reasoning
  3. Positive relationships with students and supportive learning environment
  4. Communication skills
  5. Enthusiasm

The authors best summarized their findings as

“excellent teaching, although multifactorial, transcends ordinary teaching and is characterized by inspiring, supporting, actively involving, and communicating with students”.

The authors conclude there must be a recognition of the importance of noncognitive skills in those who want to improve as clinical educators. Although the medical knowledge is important, that is merely the standard by which all educators must have. But to excel requires inspiring and motivating.

What are your thoughts regarding this paper? Think back to those educators that you had that made a lasting impact? What was it about them that made them so special? Do you agree with this list of attributes above? Or do you have anything that you would add or detract?

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
– Maya Angelou

Sutkin G, Wagner E, Harris I, Schiffer R. What makes a good clinical teacher in medicine? A review of the literature. Acad Med. 2008;83(5):452-466. [PubMed]

Author information

Nikita Joshi, MD

Nikita Joshi, MD

ALiEM Chief People Officer and Associate Editor
Clinical Instructor
Department of Emergency Medicine
Stanford University

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