From Student to Teacher: Tips for Successful Presentations

Alexa M. Mieses, MD, MPH


June 14, 2017

A Word About Feedback

Part of being a teacher is providing feedback to the learner. Giving real-time feedback to encourage or discourage a behavior that needs to be addressed immediately is often important—for example, letting a learner know that she handled a difficult conversation with a patient very well; or perhaps on the contrary, letting a learner know that she used too much jargon while speaking with a family during bedside rounds. The best type of feedback helps the learner grow. Therefore, time needs to be set aside to offer constructive criticism. The session has to occur early enough for the learner to implement the suggested changes. In other words, feedback must be timely and expected.

You must clarify that feedback is different from an evaluation. An evaluation is a summation of all that you've observed in the learner over a long period of time. This may focus on broad milestones or skills and usually occurs at the end of a clinical rotation or at the end of the academic year. Feedback is specific to a certain instance or skill; it is concrete and is not based on a judgement but on an observation. It often does not get factored into a grade or evaluation, unless the learner has failed to act on the feedback.

Being able to articulate what you observed and why it was effective or ineffective in that situation is important. You must then be able to offer suggestions for improvement. For example, it is not helpful to say, "You looked disinterested on rounds and need to demonstrate more engagement and curiosity." That is a statement loaded with judgement that may be inaccurate. Perhaps the learner is very engaged and only appears to be disinterested because they are in deep thought. It is also not helpful to say, "You are doing a great job on the rotation. Just keep reading more, and you'll be fine." This is far too vague and unspecific.

More helpful feedback focuses on facts and observations. For example, you can point out the disorganized parts of an oral presentation or written history and physical note. This is not judgmental. In medicine, presentations and notes follow a generally accepted order. Therefore, not only can you point out the places in which they deviate from the norm, but you can offer a structure for the learner to follow the next time. This is far more helpful than saying, "Your notes are disorganized, and you need to do a better job conveying information," or simply correcting someone's writing style.

Like any other skill in the profession, teaching and presentation skills grow over time. A bit of thought and preparation—using tips like the ones above or those taken from a favorite mentor—will go a long way to making you feel comfortable with this crucial aspect of being a doctor.