Should I do a clinician-educator track?

Medical knowledge continues to grow at an incomprehensible rate, health systems get more corporate and complicated, and society continues to demand personalized, decent care. In the midst of all this, it is important to protect medical education as an investment in generations of future physicians.Enter: the clinician educator track, a specialized program offered at some medical schools and residencies that aims to give people a chance to explore medical education.

CETs may serve different purposes for different people. For some, it’s a talking point in fellowship interviews, for others, a way to improve teaching skills, and for a few, an introduction for a future career in administration (i.e. program director or clerkship director). But one thing should be emphasized for anyone considering a CET: there is a difference between being a good teacher and an educator, and while the CET can help you be both, it is most valuable if you want to be an educator in the future.

What is the distinction of teacher versus educator? A teacher is someone who dedicates time to direct teaching of students and trainees. They can lecture and run pre-clinical courses. They are attendings on the wards who sit you down for twenty minutes and explain syncope workup to you. On the other hand, an educator is a change agent. They may directly teach, but more likely, they will sit in meetings to discuss curriculum development, create new courses, or work on improving the quality of existing courses. They may do research on education and its outcomes.

Examples of questions hat medical educators face: How much time to devote to anatomy versus biochemistry? How do we include genomics and other newly relevant fields in the medical school curriculum? How do we incorporate ultrasound into clinical teaching? What is the best way to provide mentorship to trainees? How do we make medical students more humanistic? And so on.

As Catheriney Lucey describes, right now there is a “golden age” in the way medicine is taught in the US. But despite the new pedagogical methods that have been developed, all the PowerPoint bells and whistles, and small group learning, there are still big issues to tackle. We have to figure out how education and service can be synergistic, not part of a zero-sum game. We have to create new curricula for teaching about emerging issues that matter to our patients, like antibiotic resistance, more aggressive obesity counseling, and handling low-resource environments. The goal of medical education should not just be to make as smart and capable doctors as we can–it should be to create doctors who can manage whole systems and groups of providers while still providing direct care.

If these things sound interesting to you, consider whether doing a clinician-educator track would be useful for taking on a leadership role.

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