Ron Gottesman

Faculty of Medicine

What are some of the strategies that you use in your courses to engage students?

To engage students, I find out what their needs are and then I try to tie my objectives to their needs. I also try to make it very contextual: a nurse who is taking a course with me on resuscitation has a very different role from a physician, and I have to be sensitive to that.

I also make myself available to the students, including during off hours. You can’t just be there for students in the limited time that you have together--students have to feel that you’re their champion, that you’re supporting them. If they don’t feel that you really care about them, they are not going to care about learning as much. You can’t fake it, either. If you can’t display enthusiasm for the course and the field, the class just won’t go as well.

How do you evaluate your students’ learning? What kind of assessment strategies do you use?

The evaluation of student learning is a complex issue in postgraduate medical education, and traditionally we have done a poor job of assessing non-technical or higher-order learning. Recently, though, the focus has shifted toward using multiple evaluation strategies beyond the standard written or oral exams. For instance, I have adopted simulation, using actors and high-fidelity computerized “patients,” to teach and assess higher-order decision-making and communication skills. I also employ 360 degree feedback, meaning feedback from all members of the healthcare team, OSCEs (Objective Structured Clinical Examinations), and threshold competency-based procedural skills checklists. Ultimately, though, the direct mentor-apprentice observation and feedback process still has a very valuable role in student learning.

What is the most important thing students in your discipline learn when taking a course with you? How about students from outside your discipline?

What I try to get across to students is to think beyond the obvious. Nine times out of ten, doing things a certain way is correct, but there is always the one time out of ten when they will have to think differently. I try to get students away from memorizing and doing things just because the book says so. They will have to be able to troubleshoot, so I try to move them more toward critical thinking and critical analysis.

How do you help your students understand what research and/or scholarship is in your discipline (including findings, methodologies, etc.)?

We do what is called evidence-based medicine; I try to link some of the basic principles we are studying to some of the research that has been done. By discussing the rationale for why we do things a certain way and showing students the literature, some good and some not so good, I hope to challenge them and help them think critically. For instance, when we use a certain medicine to treat a problem, maybe we are only doing it this way because we have been doing it like this forever, and the research is very limited. So I give the students some background to help them think about questions that have not been answered yet. This often provides them with a great starting point for their own small research projects—this is true for nurses as well as physicians. I also talk about my own research and use it as an example.

What are your recommendations to new faculty members to help them develop in their teaching role?

To ask for help, and to not assume that they have to know it all. They should avail themselves of the resources that are there for them: their colleagues, their department, Teaching & Learning Services, and so on.

I would also tell them not to be afraid to try new things, like if they’re comfortable teaching big classes, they might try teaching small groups. And lastly, they shouldn’t necessarily count on technology to be their best friend: even the most beautiful PowerPoint won’t get the fundamentals across if they’re missing to begin with.

What advice do you have for undergraduate students about how to get the most out of your courses?

First, be open. I know a lot of students are used to competing with peers. It’s very hard for students to get into Medicine, and it’s often to the detriment of their neighbours. But students have to lose this attitude quickly. Second, it’s okay not to be perfect and to ask for help, even from peers: students need to learn to work together and to solve things as a group. Peer learning is very important, especially in the health care professions.

Why do you teach?

I like teaching. It’s part of my professional career. Teaching is being involved with students in a learning environment, as well as being involved in medical education research, curriculum development, and faculty development, so I define myself as a career teacher-educator.

To me the most rewarding thing is to see my students do well, for them to go on and have tremendous careers in medicine. And even on a smaller scale, if I’m working with a group and we stay a couple of minutes longer because they’re engaged, they’re enthusiastic and the questions are still coming, that’s very rewarding. I get a lot of satisfaction from that.

Photo by Owen Egan

Contact Information
Email address: 
ronald [dot] gottesman [at] muhc [dot] mcgill [dot] ca

Students have to feel that you’re their champion, that you’re supporting them.