When Medical Students Multiply (and why you want them to)

Any child of the 80s can recall Gremlins.  When exposed to water, these furballs multiplied.  I have been known to jokingly liken my first year medical students to gremlins.  They just keep multiplying.  Three years ago, I was sipping a lemonade poolside in Las Vegas when a patient emailed to ask if I would be his preceptor for the first year primary care course.  Maybe the lemonades had something to do with it, but it seemed like a good idea at the time so I said yes. Later I doubted my decision, wondering if I could really handle the added work.  It turned out to be a great decision and experience, prompting me to take two medical students the following year.  They were such a joy, that when the medical school was expanding and asked community preceptors to take more students, I agreed to take three.  At this rate, I’ll soon be taking ten a year.

I have always loved teaching.  In fact, until I was in 5th grade, I wanted to become a teacher. I would sit in my basement lecturing to my fake students, or even better, if I managed to trap my younger brothers, I lectured to actual students.  My dad even made me a coat press and a flag to hang up in my fake classroom.  Fast forward to medical training and I gladly taught my medical students and interns, usually on a daily basis. When interviewing for jobs in my final year of residency, I weighed a lot of factors.  I eventually chose to pursue a career in private practice, which has offered me a wonderful balance of work and home life satisfaction.  However, one thing that was very difficult for me in choosing this path was feeling like by choosing to move away from the university, I had to give up teaching trainees.

Certainly there continue to be daily opportunities for teaching in primary care with my patients.  However after a two year break from students, I found that taking first year medical students was a great way to dip my feet back into medical education.  Since that first email request, I have precepted fourth year medical students, premedical college students, advanced practice nursing students and am looking forward to taking an internal medicine and pediatrics resident in the near future.  I love being a primary care doctor and feel compelled to share this love with the future generation.

When I reflect back on my initial precepting experience in medical school, it is hard to believe I even went into primary care.  My precepting physician was overwhelmed and burnt out.  Entering her office involved navigating huge stacks of paper charts on her floor, labeled with post it notes to correspond to the visit dates.  I am lucky I later had great mentors but what if the impressions left by my time with my first precepting physician pushed me away from primary care?  We need more positive mentors and teachers to help mold the future generation of physicians, as preparation for whatever field they ultimately pursue.  I encourage you, if you feel you have time, sign up to precept some first year medical students.  I feel that the most impactful way I can contribute as a medical educator is by example.  Be that intentional mentor.  Help shape our next generation of physicians.

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