In this series we find out about our people’s passion for educating the next generation of healthcare professionals. Find out what analogy Dr Jeremy Wee, Consultant in SGH's Department of Emergency Medicine, uses to describe his philosophy of teaching.
What role do you play in medical education?
I teach medical students as part of my role as a Clinical Senior Lecturer of YLL School of Medicine and an Adjunct Assistant Professor with Duke NUS Graduate Medical School. I also teach the Emergency Medicine Residents as a Clinical Core Faculty Member.
Who has inspired you to be an educator?
There are many mentors, tutors and educators in SingHealth who have inspired me. However if I can only mention one, it would have to be Prof Venkataraman Anantharaman, Senior Consultant from SGH’s Department of Emergency Medicine.
As one of the pioneers of Emergency Medicine in Singapore, he is well-respected as a clinician, and also recognised as a passionate educator among students, junior doctors and even many of the more senior physicians. His passion and desire to teach have inspired many of us to learn clinical abilities and administrative skills. However, what most inspires me is his patience towards those learning from him as well as how he treats patients holistically – attending to them and their needs, not just treating their afflictions.
If you had a magic wand, what change(s) would you make?
In an ideal world, there is little or no mismatch between what the students need and what the curriculum offers. All students have the same learning abilities and can be taught in the same way. In reality, there is no single teaching method that can impart knowledge and skills to all students equally.
As teachers learn how to teach, it is also very important that learners are taught how to learn. If I had a magic wand, I would make learning how to learn part of the curriculum. This includes tools for learning, how to find accurate and right information, mental and collaborative skills – these are all vital but seldom taught.
How do you teach someone who is uninterested or unmotivated?
The key to teaching or mentoring someone who is not motivated or interested is to find out the reason why. Some could be demoralised from their lack of success despite their efforts, or they find little meaning in what they are doing. Others could perceive the subject as irrelevant to them. It is also equally important to find out what motivates that person to learn. Is it the desire to help others or because of one’s quest for knowledge or sense of achievement? With this knowledge, it allows the teacher to focus on what drives that learner while addressing the reasons for the disinterest. For example, the teacher could combine the teaching of basic sciences with pathology and real patients so that there is greater relevance for the students.
Since you’ve been a mentor, what was that one moment that made all the hard work worthwhile?
The end-point for most educators is to impart their knowledge and experience to their learners so that they become excellent clinicians, researchers and educators, and most of all, are able to contribute to society. For me it is no different. It is always the moment when I meet someone who was once my student and today, we are treating patients together. That makes it all worth it.
How has teaching made an impact on your career?
Teaching students is also a learning process for me. It teaches me how to crystalise concepts and how to get ideas across to others more efficiently and effectively. On the clinical front, teaching has also helped me to communicate and explain disease processes better to my patients and their relatives.
Can you describe your teaching philosophy using an object?
The Chinese has an 8,000-year-old love relationship with Jade. Jade had long been treasured and previously only possessed by members of royalty. Confucius had also used Jade to describe the ideal virtues a true gentlemen should have.
Jade, in its raw form may not be particularly pleasing. Transforming it into objects of beauty and luster was a laborious task and could take years.
Every learner is like Jade in its raw form and it can take years of training and hard work before it can be carved into magnificent forms. The teacher/mentor is akin to a craftsman and with his tools, he will need patience, perseverance and passion to complete his task, while keeping in mind that his goal is to bring out the beauty and the true virtues of the learner of which Jade epitomises.