At age 25, with 2 bachelor’s degrees in hand, I’m going back to school to complete pre-med prerequisites.

The medical profession has tons of smart people, and best practices are already well-explored. But I was a teacher, and I think there are some good ideas there that can cross over to the medical profession. Let’s go through some stuff that I currently think about being a good doctor, due to my teaching experience.

by James Sarmiento

Teachers do the following:

1. They lecture to, engage, guide, control*, and summarize to the class.

2. They constantly adjust to the level of their students.

3. They ignore and forgive useless questions.

4. They concentrate on useful questions.

5. They gently remind a student that his or her question was off-track.

6. They remain positive.


So how does a doctor relate to each one of those points about teachers?

1. Four years of school. At least four years of residency. A doctor knows a hell of a lot. So you’re the expert in the room, despite the patient’s newfound wealth of knowledge from (OK, I do this all the time as a patient—of course I want to try to figure it out myself, but I also recognize the doctor as the authority). As the doctor, you ask the right questions, ignore tangential and useless information, sift through the information you’re given for the most important info, and even engage the friends and family that the patient brought with—maybe they’ll say something that the patient never would, because they have a different perspective.

2. Assume the patient knows nothing, but sense and test the energy in the room. If they already know, adjust. No need to talk down to them.

3, 4, and 5. Guide their questions. Don’t get off track with questions that they don’t even realize are off track. You’re like a teacher, and YOU are showing to the student what is most important right now.

6. Stay positive, but realistic. The patient doesn’t care that you’ve seen 17 other patients today. This is their first interaction with you, and they aren’t paying (i.e. haven’t been paying insurance all year) to face off with a negative person. On the other hand, be realistic about their condition and the necessary treatments. That the info they came for, after all.


Here’s an interesting article that looks at this from a business/idea-pitching perspective.


*Some argue the teacher should never control. I disagree. 70% control sometimes, 15% control other times, and 100% even at times. They didn’t choose you to teach the class because you’re a know-nothing chump. Guide the class. Gently tell them when they got something wrong. Teach ’em something they didn’t know. Direct them to discoveries they never could have made on their own.