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Why I Teach – Pat Brunett, MD, FACEP

Nine members of the School of Medicine faculty were recently recognized by their peers for excellence in teaching. This Q&A series profiles each of the recipients and asks the question, “Why do you teach?”

Dr. BrunettApril’s Q&A features Pat Brunett, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine.

Dr. Brunett is the Vice Chair for Education, and Director of the Emergency Medicine Residency Program at OHSU. He also serves on the Community Health Physician Advisory Group for OHSU. He completed his residency training at the University of California-Irvine, and his fellowship in Emergency Medicine at the University of California-Irvine Medical Center. He became board certified in Emergency Medicine in 1994.

Q&A With Pat Brunett, MD, FACEP

What first attracted you to education?

Teaching is a privilege for which I am thankful every day. An academic career also affords many opportunities beyond teaching. Working in an environment with similarly-minded people, committed to advancing our knowledge base and professional practice standards, can often impact the health of populations more profoundly than seeing one patient at a time. Certainly working in an academic health center encourages one to explore cutting edge approaches to problem-solving as well.

Were there any teachers who particularly influenced you?

There are several, including three specific individuals at OHSU who should perhaps remain nameless, lest I embarrass them publically. One early role model I was fortunate to encounter during medical school was Dr. Charles Watson, a well-respected, charismatic surgeon who, despite his position and reputation, always remained approachable and welcoming to junior clinicians and medical students. His influence remains with me today, not only because of the scope of his knowledge, but because of my admiration for him as a person.

It is a big transition when you switch into the role of being a mentor to others. It can be tempting to think of someone in training as “just a medical student” or “just a resident.”  However, the development of a health care professional occurs along a continuum, for which those categorical distinctions don’t always make sense. It is most challenging to tailor your mentorship to what an individual needs at that given moment in his or her development.

Are great teachers born or made?

I’ve struggled for years with this. I’m continually in awe of my colleagues who I consider great teachers, and am always trying to tease out and package those qualities that each brings to their interactions with learners. One common trait seems to be a lack of ego. The teacher and the learner are at an equal level, with a relationship built on complete respect and transparency. There also needs to be a shared enthusiasm for the adventure and sense of mutual discovery in learning something together.

What are the greatest challenges facing education today?

In order to be better teachers, faculty themselves need mentorship. Faculty development directed towards teaching excellence is essential. Our current environment of constrained resources means that we aren’t doing as good a job in this area as we could. The demands of high clinical productivity, adoption of the electronic medical record, and the general complexity of the academic environment, can impact the quality and the quantity of education. This is happening in academic centers all over the country, not just at OHSU. Fortunately some great minds are thinking about what it means to be an academic physician, and I think the upshot will be a significant shift in the way things are done: more on-line teaching, integration of high-fidelity simulation, computer-based learning modules, and no doubt some things that we have not even thought of yet. We need to reconsider our assumptions from the past, particularly the idea of the lecture hall as the best “technology” for delivering information. It no longer works that way. The best education is learner-centered, and rooted in an understanding of the most effective way to promote understanding and achieve competency.

How do you continue to learn so that you can continue to teach?

I read journals and enjoy opportunities for continuing medical education, but the real learning comes from the daily interactions with those at OHSU and around the country who are widely regarded as experts in this field. Those water cooler conversations on innovative ways to improve our teaching practice often breathe life into my day. It’s been said before, but educators also get far more from teaching than they give. It’s a little secret that teachers don’t like to admit, but teaching is a fountain of youth. And if what you’ve done lives on in others, it is one way of achieving a sort of immortality.

Read more thoughts on “Why I Teach” from Frances Biagioli, MD, Rebecca Harrison, MD, FACP, and Suzanne Mitchell, PhD.

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