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Academic and Student Services

Focus on Faculty

Hear from experienced faculty who share their inspiration and advice for serving as an educator.

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Jeff Fritz, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy - Regional Campuses
Years in Education: 
25 with this being my 4th year at MCW.

Why did you choose to be an educator?

As part of my graduate education I was required to instruct in various courses. Initially I was a little frustrated by the time it took to put together a good instructional session; time which I felt could have been better applied to my research efforts. However, as I worked with, and listened to, my learners I noticed that the rewards in assisting others in the learning process were personally more rewarding that getting the next grant or manuscript acceptance. Soon learners and mentors began to reinforce these rewards by noting my positive approach toward instruction and providing feedback, and my ability to contextualize material in a variety of formats that enhanced understanding. Soon I found myself in instructional settings more than I was in the lab and shortly after that I transitioned to educational settings that primarily placed my energies into instructional/educator roles.  

When do you feel most rewarded as an educator?
I feel the most rewarded when I have developed a level of trust with learners such that I can observe a learner develop confidence in themselves and begin to embrace their identity as a peer educator/learner.

What is your educational philosophy?
I’m a big fan of positivity, mastery and goal setting. I think if we create a learning environment that positively encourages learners to set and reach their own goals for mastery, we then reach a place where we become peer-learners/educators on a shared journey in the educational process of personal/professional growth and discovery.  

Who or what inspires you as an educator?
I had, and continue to have, many wonderful mentors that share(d) with me the process of being peer learners. They do/did an amazing job of eliminating hierarchy and bias from their instruction as well as challenged me to join them as peer learners on the shared journey of continuous discovery both personal growth and professional development. Their inclusivity, and ability to create a learning environment that was safe to challenge convention, provide robust feedback and allow the freedom for personal growth and curiosity is one I hope to share with those around me.

What have your students taught you?
The first, and likely most important, lesson I learned was to be authentic rather than correct. The second was the need to develop trust and safe learning environments where we could all grow and learn in the process. That level of authenticity can feel very vulnerable and be challenging to achieve but I believe it offers great potential in developing both avenues for content mastery/discovery and personal/professional development for learners and educators.

What advice would you give to other educators?
Be yourself and try to find ways to keep things simple and fun.

What do you find most challenging as an educator?
It’s an unintended consequence, but sometimes I think our well-intentioned efforts to best educate have the tendency to dehumanize learning environments and make education feel institutional and hierarchical. I’m not sure I have answers to that puzzle other than to push back and assess my efforts to explore if I have included bias, positional-power or related obstacles to learning in my instructional setting. Also, I still struggle a little with the identity of an educator, I feel like I’m more of learner that’s just a little further along on the continuous discovery journey and as such I’ve made a lot more mistakes from which to recover and learn. 
 
Teresa Patitucci, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy

Years in Education:
Years as a faculty teacher? 4

Why did you choose to be an educator?
Throughout my training, my favorite roles involved helping people understand something they found confusing. I always knew I wanted to be in a field where I could help people using human biology and it turned out I had a skill for transmitting complex information to another person in a way they could comprehend. I also always had an intense love for anatomy. The structure of our bodies is so beautiful! Once I realized I could roll helping people live healthier lives, training others, and anatomy into a career, it was a no-brainer!

When do you feel most rewarded as an educator?
I feel most rewarded when I help someone who needed it. Students can and should figure out a lot on their own, but everyone has concepts they need some extra help to understand. It’s rewarding to help guide a learner through those tough spots and watch the light go on when the concept clicks. On a larger scale, I get to help our students accomplish their goals of serving our communities through science and medicine, which I find immensely rewarding.

What is your educational philosophy?

I believe learning sessions should be warm, fun, and highly organized. I don’t expect learners to know everything when they get here. I try to organize content in a way that is intuitive to someone learning the information for the first time and illustrates the relationships between concepts. I include a framework of what may feel like basic information (i.e. “the big picture”) then build the content out from there. I encourage students not to shy away from asking questions. After all, if they already knew everything, they wouldn’t be in school! Finally, I don’t hide my enthusiasm for the subjects I teach, there’s no need to suck the joy out of learning – this stuff is amazing!

Who or what inspires you as an educator?
Going into this field I was inspired by educators I had along the way. I had some great teachers and mentors throughout my education and always paid close attention to what they did that allowed them to be so effective. In my current role, the learners inspire me most. Their enthusiasm and curiosity for the field in which they are training is contagious. I am reminded why I went into education any time a student gets excited about something they just experienced.    

What have your students taught you?
So many things! I love when a student asks a question I don’t know the answer to or about something I’ve never considered before. We get to figure it out together and both learn something new! I have also learned about the clinical realm from medical students after they finish their basic science work and are out on the wards. It’s particularly fun when a student tells me about an experience in clinic that relates to something they learned in class! They often describe procedures or treatments I didn’t know about as a non-clinician, which allows me to improve as an educator.

What advice would you give to other educators?
Two things: 1. Know your audience. Think about where that group of learners is in their training and pitch your information at an appropriate level of detail for the level they are at currently. Read the room to see if they are following along, maybe through practice questions during class. 2. Care about your students, empathize with them. Trust they are largely doing their best, but they may be stuck. They’re adults and ultimately responsible for themselves, but the role of an educator is to help them develop into the best version of themselves, which may include pointing them in the right direction when they’re lost.

What do you find most challenging as an educator?

I find it most challenging to strike a balance between offering support and encouraging independence. Everyone learns differently and has unique needs. It’s not always obvious when someone is struggling and even when it is clear someone is struggling, they may not want help from me. Figuring out when to intervene versus give someone space to figure things out on their own is tricky. A major skill that should be developed in students is the ability to monitor, motivate, and assess themselves, then reach out for help when needed.

 
Michael Lund, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Obstetrics Gynecology

Years in Education:
Years as a faculty teacher? 19

Why did you choose to be an educator?
Sounds cliché, but I didn’t choose education – it chose me.  I had no plans to go into academic medicine during medical school or my first year or two of residency.  However, I found myself teaching medical students and junior residents all day every day and I really enjoyed it.  I changed my plans from private practice to academic practice here (I’ve been here my entire career) and have really enjoyed playing the role of doctor-teacher.  A good example of “don’t knock it till you try it”.

When do you feel most rewarded as an educator?
Easy – when a learner struggles with something, they receive feedback willingly and enthusiastically, and then show mastery or even improvement.  Watching someone succeed at caring for patients in the office or the operating room is fantastic (sometimes I’m more excited than they are) and provides my motivation to keep working here – we are making a huge difference in the future of medicine

What is your educational philosophy?
The best teachers are those who remember what it feels like to be the learner – we lose our empathy so quickly sometimes.  All our students and residents and other learners want is to be treated like partners by someone who remembers how scary or overwhelming the medical education journey is.  My goal is to provide highly experiential learning (let students “do stuff”) as quickly as possible to build their confidence and their enthusiasm

Who or what inspires you as an educator?
I am inspired by the ridiculously talented faculty physicians who have worked here in the past and work here now – we have an amazing collection of faculty who are really good at empathetic, experiential teaching.  I am equally inspired by the students who are excited about being physicians because they are anxious to care for their patients with character and dignity.  If I can help them get there, I am satisfied.

What have your students taught you?
Don’t forget where you started.  Don’t act like you’re more important than anyone else.  Don’t act like you know everything (you don’t).  One of the best things about working at MCW is that my students and residents regularly (and usually kindly) remind me of all of the things that I don’t know that I should know.

What advice would you give to other educators?
See the answers to my last questions.  In addition, the best teaching sessions often just cover one or two key concepts.  Use real-life examples.  Flashy doesn’t work nearly as well as understanding your learners.

What do you find most challenging as an educator?
I want to make sure that I am as up to date as I can be so that I don’t pass on outdated knowledge or skills.  That’s really challenging sometimes.  Keeping up with modern medicine, much less staying ahead of the curve, requires a great deal of discipline and enthusiasm.

Michael Frank, MD, Professor, Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine

Dr. Michael Frank shares his thoughts, teaching philosophy, inspiration, advice and challenges as an experience educator.

Years in Education:   
All my life, really, isn’t that true?  But if you mean as a faculty member, 25 years (including time elsewhere before coming to MCW).

Why did you choose to be an educator?
I have always been interested in teaching, including volunteering as a tutor in high school, college, and medical school.  I thought about being a teacher before I decided to go to medical school.  While in medical school, even before I chose a specialty, I knew I would stay in academic medicine.  I think, like most things we end up dedicating a lot of time to, I really enjoyed it and found out I was good at it.

When do you feel most rewarded as an educator?
When I see a learner get it—the “aha” moment.  When I see them work through something to get to the right answer.  When they ask me a question that shows insight into the topic.

What is your educational philosophy?
I believe in active learning and involving the learner.  I don’t believe in forcing memorization of things that can be easily looked up.  I believe being able to integrate data into appropriate clinical reasoning is far more important and in an educational environment where we all learn together.

Who or what inspires you as an educator?
Learners—namely those who enjoy learning, who find fascination in new things and satisfaction in wanting to truly understand something, who care more about the process than the grade.  As for teachers, I’ve always been amazed by those who can take something complex and focus it and make it more straightforward for me to understand.

What have your students taught you?
Lots!  And I don’t just mean things that they educated me on or things we learned together having to look up something to answer a question.  The most important thing they remind me of is to appreciate the joy in medicine and that we are lucky to be doing what we do every day.  

What advice would you give to other educators?
Make sure it is fun for both of you - you should be having fun teaching just like they should be having fun learning.  If not, look again at what you’re doing and why.  Make sure you know your audience—what level they are at and where you want to take them, what is important for them to really know and be able to do.
    
What do you find most challenging as an educator?
I’ll admit I find it disheartening to have disinterested learners, those who can’t find pleasure in learning something for the sake of learning, those who are only interested in what will be on the test and what their grade should be, what they “have” to do.  But that’s a bad challenge, and challenge can also be a good thing.  To me, a good challenge is to have to keep things fresh.  If I give the same teaching session every other month to the students, how do I keep it interesting and relevant (as much to me so I continue to enjoy it, as to them so they see the value of it)?  That’s a good challenge.  

 

Voices in Education

We’ve created this video series to share best practices from experienced faculty who contribute their teaching philosophies, engagement strategies, advice and inspiration in short video format. Enjoy!

David Brousseau, MD, MS

Professor and Chief
Pediatric Emergency Medicine

Highlights include:
  • Students can be disengaged when they don’t understand the applicability of information
  • Audience response system questions can bring about awareness and reflection
  • Inspiration can come from people who are actively trying to make something better
  • Students help to challenge your assumptions on a given topic
  • Teaching information becomes relevant when you ensure students can apply it outside of the classroom

Beth Krippendorf, PhD

Professor
Cell Biology, Neurobiology and Anatomy

Highlights include:
  • Teaching, like medicine, is a service profession
  • Students respond to enthusiasm and organization
  • Teachers should ask themselves what they want the students to know/do and hoe they want to guide the students toward achievement of those goals
  • Student feedback inspires improvement and can motivate teachers to discover better ways to teach

Karen MacKinnon, RPh

Assistant Professor
School of Pharmacy

Highlights include:
  • Audience questions allow teachers to spark additional conversation and aids them in clarifying concepts
  • Hands-on learning is important in translating knowledge from a lecture into applicable skills for patient care
  • Allow students to ask questions - it's okay of the teacher doesn't always have the answers

Hershel Raff, PhD

Professor
Medicine, Surgery and Physiology

Highlights include:
  • The biggest mistakes teachers can make are being unclear and forgetting the big picture
  • Audience response questions can be extremely helpful in gauging student understanding and redirecting teaching efforts
  • There is nothing more beautiful than a great lecture, and nothing deadlier than a bad one

James Sebastian, MD

Professor
Department of Medicine

Highlights include:
  • The teacher's role is to coach and instill fundamental knowledge and skills
  • It must be okay for students to make mistakes as they learn
  • If you can draw it and you can teach it, then you understand it
  • It's okay for a student to see a teacher struggle with a topic outside their expertise

Ryan Spellecy, PhD

Professor
Bioethics, Institute for Health and Equity

Highlights include:
  • Students are future colleagues; teaching prepares them for that role
  • You can better engage students by mixing up your teaching methodologies If you start with a simple question that engages students, that goes a long way toward getting and keeping students involved in the session
  • Audience response questions provide students with an anonymity that helps teachers broach sensitive topics and elicit conversation in the classroom