From Student to Teacher: Tips for Successful Presentations

Alexa M. Mieses, MD, MPH


June 14, 2017

Chalk Talks

Similar to a formal slideshow presentation, "chalk talks" are small teaching sessions for which you can prepare. Usually, your audience consists of students, and your aim is to teach them about a core clinical concept related to the clinical rotation. These talks are meant to be brief but high-yield. The topics often transcend more than one specialty. For example, some topics may include "how to choose maintenance fluids" or "how to workup altered mental status." These are tasks all physicians should be prepared to handle. That being said, teaching a core but specialty-specific topic is often necessary—for example, developmental milestones in pediatrics.

Regardless of the topic, preparation is crucial. These talks may be informal, but they should be thoughtful. They are designed to help students learn and retain information. This is a great opportunity to teach mnemonics or simply draw visual aids as you sit side by side with a learner and discuss the topic. These sessions often occur when there is some down time in clinic or on the inpatient service. As a resident, you should have several chalk talks prepared that you can always use to teach medical students at a moment's notice. This not only hones your ability to teach but enhances the learner's educational experience while on a clinical rotation.

Bedside Teaching

This is often the most challenging part of being a resident-teacher. Teaching at the bedside is an art that involves balancing the needs and health literacy of the patient with the needs of the learners on the team. These teaching sessions are usually very brief (1-2 minutes) and usually highlight one clinical pearl relevant to the patient. It is harder—although not impossible—to plan for these sessions, as the clinical pearl is often dictated by examination findings, which are often unpredictable, or a learner's deficiency in one area. For example, teaching at the bedside may be used to highlight an interesting physical examination finding and emphasize proper technique.

During these sessions, being constructive is important. This is not just for the sake of the learner's morale but for the sake of the patient; no member of the team should be made to look incompetent in front of patients. Also, avoid medical jargon as much as possible even though you are communicating with other medical professionals, as this can scare patients and their families. Terms that sound routine and benign to medical professionals—such as the word "benign," even—may actually sound unfamiliar to patients and make them worry.