Leaving a Fingerprint in Medical School Through Teaching

It is 6 a.m. and the high-speed car race commences. I arrive at the university hospital, put on my white coat, and, depending on the rotation, visit my patients, do rounds with my preceptors, write progress notes, follow up labs, attend lectures, or study for exams. After 12 hours or so, I call it a day. Even though each day has its unique peculiarities and I get amazed by the sui generis of every patient, I have found one can easily fall into routine and start living as if driving on a highway without stopping to admire the landscape, merely focusing on the final destination many of us have dreamt for years: being a doctor.

In this day-to-day scenario, full of responsibilities and emotions, I feel that leaving a legacy to others in medical school can be quite challenging but not an impossible mission. I recently read an inspiring quote from Spanish Jesuit Pedro Arrupe that made me reflect on my busy life as a student: “I do not resign myself to the fact that, when I die, the world follows as if I had never lived.” I asked myself, How am I leaving a fingerprint and making a difference? It is one of the most important factors in life: How am I contributing to my alma mater, to my patients, and to my fellow colleagues? The answer to these questions is indeed complex, and deepens into the confines of philosophy and spirituality. However, when pondering a tangible reality, I would say that by teaching, we can immensely motivate ourselves, leave a legacy to others, and give a more conscious meaning to our routines.

At times, we might have experienced teaching as a distanced, unidirectional activity performed by well-prepared scholars aiming to transmit knowledge to their pupils, but in reality, teaching is not exclusive to professors and can be practiced from our roles as medical students. According to Strauss et al. (1), teaching is a natural cognitive ability characteristic of all human beings and is one of the greatest achievements of our race evolution. Albeit sometimes thought as isolated, this synergy occurs in everyday life as we interact and collaborate with each other as members of an academic community (2).

There is no doubt that medical school is implicitly involved in a variety of teaching-learning relationships with different protagonists: between fellow medical students, residents, attendings, patients, families, and scientific societies, among others. However, teaching can be considered a natural cognitive ability and sometimes we adopt a passive attitude that could be further developed into a more active participation. Here I propose to you 4 “educ-actions” to actively teach in your medical schools:

1. Become a Teaching Assistant/Fellow: I believe that being a TA is the par excellence opportunity to teach during medical school. Despite these programs varying between institutions, they share a common objective: to help tutoring fellow students on a subject you feel interested in. Among other tasks, you might be expected to hold office hours, lead group discussions, or organize lab practices. After being a physiology TA for more than 1 year, I learned that besides helping students excel on a topic you feel passionate about, you will improve your understanding of the subject as well as your communication, critical thinking, and socialization skills. Sometimes you might even get remuneration.

2. Join your school's Internal Medicine Interest Group (IMIG): Last year, after a couple of fellow students and I created the IMIG in our medical school, we noticed a significant impact on how to enhance the teaching-learning synergy. In our experience, every two weeks a team of seven students proposes a clinical case challenge to other members of the group, steers a discussion, and presents a short topic review at the end of the meeting. Depending on your IMIGs activities you might assume a teaching role in which you feel comfortable.

3. Educate your patients: Teaching is not only for those involved in academia, it has an essential role in the interaction with our patients. In addition to adjusting to the emotional response of having a disease, many patients have to deal with understanding the medical jargon as well as the complexities of the medical system from their own social biases, which sometimes may lead to barriers in providing desirable health care. For example, many patients with chronic diseases like hypertension hold the belief that medication needs to be taken only when the patient is not feeling well (3). Teaching your patients about their condition, treatment, and health system with lay terms and subsequently assessing their understanding can immensely change their prognosis and satisfaction. Several studies have demonstrated that patient education significantly improves adherence to treatment, self-care, and clinical outcomes, such as days of hospitalization, readmission, and even mortality (4, 5).

4. Share your passion: Diversity is one of the beauties of studying in medical school. You find yourself surrounded by peers with a variety of academic and cultural backgrounds and abilities that make some of them master certain subjects more easily than others. You could be one of these students and by tutoring you can help others to learn the ropes. Be open with your knowledge and study material— someday you might be surprised by how others can help you.

To sum up, an old Latin proverb says “qui docet discit”: he/she who teaches learns. Teaching is an enriching learning experience that I invite you to include in your daily life in medical school. In my case, this is how I try to leave a legacy and transcend as a medical student; but now I would like to ask you: How do you want your life to touch others? How are you leaving your fingerprint?

Daniel Motta (Class of 2018)
Pontifical Javeriana University at Bogotá, Colombia


1. Strauss S, Ziv M. Teaching is a natural cognitive ability for humans. Mind, Brain, Educ. 2012;6:186–96.

2. Nyikos M, Hashimoto R. Constructivist Theory Applied to Collaborative Learning in Teacher Education: In Search of ZPD. The Mod Lang J. 1997:506–17. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4781.1997.tb05518.x

3. Marshall IJ, Wolfe CD, McKevitt C. Lay perspectives on hypertension and drug adherence: systematic review of qualitative research. BMJ. 2012;345:e3953. [PMID: 22777025] doi:10.1136/bmj.e3953

4. Gold DT, McClung B. Approaches to patient education: emphasizing the long-term value of compliance and persistence. Am J Med. 2006;119:S32-7. [PMID: 16563940]

5. Koelling TM, Johnson ML, Cody RJ, Aaronson KD. Discharge education improves clinical outcomes in patients with chronic heart failure. Circulation. 2005;111:179-85. [PMID: 15642765]

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