Tuesday, December 11, 2007

To Rear the Tender Thought...

'Delightful task!
To rear the tender thought..
To teach the young..'

James Thomson, Scottish Poet, 1700-1748

I have, on a number of occasions, talked about my work.. You may remember my recounting the various stories of everyday-life that I encounter.. the momentous event, the tiny unexpected arrival, the chaotic day, or the controlled performance... I would hope that, through these posts, I have managed to convey to the reader how much I really enjoy what I do, and how passionate I am about it..
Mind you, I have not spoken yet about one of the most rewarding activities that I am involved in.. one of the most satisfying, most fulfilling aspects of my varied and diverse work.. the part of my work that I draw a lot of satisfaction from.. and that is teaching and training...
Don't get me wrong.. I do not aim to belittle any of the other activities I am involved in.. Saving a patient's life, reducing someone's suffering, or even simply imparting a few reassuring words to an anxious person, are all immensely rewarding and very worthwhile actions.. If I do any of those on any given day, I would feel fully satisfied and content.. but, somehow, teaching still gives me a sense of fulfillment that is hard to beat.. I guess it is the sense that I am helping shape the careers of these eager young minds, that gives me this feeling of profound contentment.. it is the hope that, by passing on my experiences, I am helping save the life of some future patient, who might need the skills of these young (and not-so-young) doctors, doctors-to-be, nurses, or paramedics..
Teaching in my field can take any of many varied forms.. from didactic classroom teaching, to informal 'shop-floor' teaching and supervision, to practical workshops and simulated scenarios..
Last week, I was teaching on an Advanced Trauma Life Support (ATLS®) Course, which encompasses most of those teaching modalities.. The Course was conceived back in the mid-seventies by an American orthopaedic surgeon who lamented the quality of care he and his family had received at a small hospital in the back of beyond, after his light aircraft crashed in a field in Nebraska. The Course has since developed into a global phenomenon, and is taught in more than 45 countries worldwide.. (However, the Royal College of Surgeons of England is the only institution outside the US, entrusted to run Instructor Courses.. Not a mean achievement, I assure you..)..
Trauma is often called 'the hidden epidemic'.. it kills the young and the active.. the 'typical' victims of trauma are usually the most productive elements in society.. Road crashes alone kill around 3,500 people, mostly young, every year in England and Wales alone.. Considering that 286 were killed in Lockerbie, the above figure represents more than a Lockerbie disaster every single month!... Can you imagine the headlines if a 747 falls out of the skies every month?!... But I digress...
So, back to the Course.. Its aim: to improve the care of trauma victims, and improve their chances of survival, and of returning to a meaningful, productive life.. what the Americans somewhat crudely refer to as 'tax-paying status'!..
It is run over a period of 2½ days.. These are long and tiring days.. tiring for both candidates and instructors alike.. We start at 8am each day, and finish anytime between 7 and 8pm, although we do finish at about 3pm on Day 3..
A series of lectures, punctuated by demonstrations, workshops, skill stations, and simulated patient scenarios, are delivered by a group of dedicated and experienced Instructors, who have been selected for their outstanding performance when they themselves attended the Course as candidates.

Instructors are not only selected for their knowledge and mastery of the subject matter, but also for their ability to communicate, support their fellow-candidates, and demonstrate that elusive ingredient that completes what is instinctively, but rather vaguely, perceived as a 'good teacher'...
A candidate being put through his paces..
(The 'casualty' is actually a Medical Student, made up to look the part!..)

I say 'dedicated', because most of us often end up doing these courses in our own time, and free of charge.. Can you imagine someone from Industry agreeing to give up three days of their own time for less than £2,000 and a five-star treatment?.. I think not!.. So, really, for 'dedicated Instructors', read 'bunch of mugs'!.. but hey, we love it!..
In the short time we spend on these courses, a kind of bond develops amongst the Instructors, as well as between them and the candidates.. We feel that our success as a faculty is reflected in the success of the candidates.. we only feel fulfilled and content if we accomplish our task: the imparting of knowledge.. the transfer of experiences.. and seeing that, come test time on Day 3, our 'trainees' are coping confidently and ably with anything that we throw at them, is worth to each of us a lot more than any payment..
Didn't I tell you we're a bunch of mugs?..


abufares said...

Great and very gratifying post as usual.
One coincidence after the other. We should read all the signs and get to meet my friend.
Tomorrow morning, I'm leaving to a 3 day workshop funded by the EU, where a few colleagues and I will be involved in the most satisfying and rewarding activity of all "teaching".
I should write about it once I get back. Thanks for the inspiration!

bint battuta said...

I'd say it was a coincidence, too! I've just started some part-time teaching, after more than a year away, and I've gone back to it just because I adore the interaction with students...it gives you so much energy. I only teach English (I'm not saving lives!) but I love getting the students to enjoy coming to class. And when they start to enjoy it, I enjoy it even more. Thanks for an inspiring post!

DUBAI JAZZ said...

You have such a great passion for teaching Mr. J, thank you for the interesting post. :)

I am wondering though, and this is a question I wanted to ask you very long time ago, how do you cope with the distress that comes with emergency medicine? I mean once I came across an accident scene here in Dubai where a motor biker was lying on a stretcher (apparently dead) and I couldn't sleep that night. ;(

Is it something that you can acquire through practice?

The Syrian Brit said...

Abu Fares,
I cannot wait to read about your experience!.. Thanks for dropping by..

Bint Battuta,
Welcome to my blog.. Lovely to see you here!..
Whether teaching life-saving skills, or teaching life-enhancing skills (and a foreign language is definitely one!..), the joys and the emotional rewards are equally thrilling..
I sincerely wish you all the best in your new venture...

I wish I have a simple answer.. I honestly believe that you can overcome that distress if you keep emphasizing to yourself all the benefits you are (hopefully) imparting onto your patient.. Nevertheless, I still spend many a sleepless night after a particularly disturbing experience..
Mind you, I also believe that you can actually acquire that some of that ability through practice and familiarity.. Suffice to say that the late Christiban Bernard, the pioneer heart surgeon, fainted the first time he went into an operating theatre!..

The Syrian Brit said...

Of course, it is Christiaan Barnard.. not "Christiban Bernard' as I misspelled it above.. (and, yes, 'Christiaan' is spelled with 2 'a's)

Abu Kareem said...


Many of the Emergency Medicine physicians I know seem to become jaded from the constant exposure to the tragedies they witness on a daily basis. It is nice to see that you have maintained your passion for what you do.

That passion comes through every time you write about your work.

Rime said...

Well you're our kind of bunch of mugs! Wonderful vocation, told with your usual sincerity and enthusiasm which makes us wish we were there. I love the way you described the essence of teaching.

And getting back to this materialistic world of ours, how is the Apple conversion going? Isn't it awesome? I became an Apple fanatic several years ago - my father was one from day one!

Did I mention that I already got an iPhone? :)

The Syrian Brit said...

Wow, Rime.. I am so desperately jealous!.. An iPhone, eh?..
As for the conversion, I am getting there, and enjoying it immensely.. I am becoming more of a Mac aficionado by the day!.. and you are right.. It is awesome!..