Notes of a Medical Educator: Observations, Reflections, and Connections. By Neal Whitman. Salt Lake City, University of Utah, 1999. Pages: 170. Cost $35.00.
In Notes of a Medical Educator , Neal Whitman authors an easily read collection of his thoughts and reflections regarding the teaching of academic medicine. Dr. Whitman is a professor of family and preventive medicine and the director of faculty development at the University of Utah. He has had a proliferative career since 1971, having written 20 handbooks and books and 50 journal articles and book chapters on medical teaching. The most interesting aspect of this book, in my opinion, is that Dr. Whitman pulls his “observations, collections, and reflections” together with a vast number of literary and personal-experience references. He uses these allusions to express his recommendations for improving teaching practices. The book consists of 50 individual essays that address various issues in academic medicine. As our author states in his preface, the essays can be read out of context, but his intention is for the reader to follow the designed sequence. Dr. Whitman converses freely, and much of the text seems to flow as a train of thought. Although this makes for interesting prose, it can also be a bit distracting. However, Dr. Whitman gives excellent advice for new and experienced teachers in the field of academic medicine. Not only can many of his recommendations be applied to the teaching of medical students and residents, but they can also be used in everyday personal and professional relationships and interactions. Dr. Whitman specifically addresses the challenges of engaging learners to become active participants in their education and even to teach their own colleagues. He emphasizes the belief that teaching is, in fact, learning twice, and his words are truly an inspiration for teachers in any field. “Teachers have the power to do good with their words,” is another point emphasized by Dr. Whitman. Simple words used to convey to a student that he or she is part of a care team can inspire desire for further learning. On the other hand, mild rebukes may be “so gentle that a student feels your support rather than your disapproval.” He addresses the importance of helping learners to recognize their own shortcomings and be able to admit when they do not know something to avoid missing an opportunity to learn from their inadequacies.
These are just a few of the dozens of “pearls” throughout this book that would enlighten new and experienced medical teachers of all specialties. One could read this book over and over again and gain fresh insight and ideas for improving teaching practices. Dr. Whitman’s words are enthusiastic and motivating, and I would strongly recommend this series of essays to anyone truly interested in academic medicine.