Life experiences make for great educators
Three named house staff teachers of the year
Great educators aren’t just born — they’re made. Built from a variety of life experiences. This year’s house staff teachers of the year are no exception. They drew from personal tragedy, moments of self-reflection and family relationships to coach and mentor their colleagues. And it didn’t go unnoticed. These extraordinary educators were recognized by their learners with a “Teacher of the Year” award.
This honor recognizes a resident or fellow’s:
- Willingness to teach
- Effective use of constructive criticism
- Creative and innovative teaching strategies
- Individualized approach to instruction
- Approachability for feedback and support
- Support of all areas of academic growth
- Display of care and compassion with patients
Northeast house staff teacher of the year 2022: Mark Mahan, MD
When Mark Mahan, MD, was 6 years old, he was in a car accident. That crash claimed the life of his mother and left him with serious injuries. He calls the accident a formative experience, one that led him to a surgical career.
“All my life, I knew I wanted to take care of people,” he said. “After the accident I needed surgery — a small bowel resection — and that started everything.” He notes that his experience taught him the importance of empathy. Through his own struggles, he developed a greater understanding of what other patients who need surgery are going through.
“Surgery is a huge mystery,” he said. “You’re put to sleep while someone operates on you. It requires a lot of trust.”
Dr. Mahan reminds his learners to never lose their focus on that sense of trust.
“I try to give my residents perspective,” he said. “We work long hours, and we’re still expected to go home and study, do research and write papers. It’s easy to be overwhelmed. I remind them to take a step back and realize medicine is a lifelong calling. It’s a privilege to be a physician, especially a surgeon. That little push helps them dig deeper, find meaning and be more compassionate.”
Central region fellow teacher of the year: David DeCoskey, DO
When his father needed valve replacement surgery, David DeCoskey, DO, learned a great lesson in patient care. That surgery, he notes, had a significant impact on his childhood.
“I never really wanted to do anything else but be a doctor,” he said. “My father’s medical team was very good. And being with him while he was being taken care of showed me how I wanted to care for people.”
Dr. DeCoskey chose to pursue internal medicine “because of all the options and avenues” the specialty offers, eventually leading him to continue his education with a fellowship in cardiology.
While in residency, he discovered a surprising love — teaching. “I took an extra year to be chief internal medicine resident just because I find teaching so enjoyable,” he said.
Dr. DeCoskey’s learners appreciate his careful approach to teaching. But it was his willingness to find time for formal Q&As, even on the busiest days, that earned him his award.
“Residents and fellows are responsible for a lot of patient care,” he said. “With the hospital as busy as it is and all the obligations we have, it’s hard to find time each day to talk. I make the time, even if it’s on the fly.”
Because it’s difficult to have dedicated teaching time every day, he notes that he lets the group decide what they’re struggling to learn. “If no one has anything specific,” he says, “I’ll pick something broadly applicable.” “Most learners in cardiology are in an anesthesiology, internal medicine or emergency medicine program, or they’re medical students. I try to think of topics they’ll see in their future career paths.”
Central region house staff teacher of the year 2022: Peter Barrale, MD
Midway through his college career, Peter Barrale, MD, had what he called an “awakening”. He wasn’t a motivated student, evident by his grades. That realization prompted some self-reflection and focusing more on things he enjoyed.
“I didn’t love school, but I did love anatomy and physiology, especially the cardiovascular system,” he said. “I realized that if I was going to start doing the things I loved, I needed to turn things around. So, I did and went to straight A’s and dean’s list.”
After earning a master’s degree in physiology from Columbia University, Dr. Barrale headed to medical school. “I went to medical school to be a cardiologist, plain and simple,” he said.
A mentor there changed his trajectory. “I was on an outpatient pediatrics rotation when my preceptor told me, ‘You really connect with kids. You should be a pediatrician.’”
At the time, Dr. Barrale was still determined to be a cardiologist. But his preceptor’s words (and the six years he spent as a swimming coach at a summer camp) stuck with him.
He says, “I coached kids from ages 4 to 18 and I loved it. That experience and my preceptor’s words persuaded me. I fell in love with peds and decided I wanted to be a pediatric cardiologist, which is the path I’m on now.”
The coaching experience, Dr. Barrale said, also influences his individualized teaching style. He notes that he works to recognize how his learners best absorb material. And then he fine-tunes his approach.
“That comes from coaching,” he says. “Teaching is coaching…not just lectures. It’s finding out what a person knows and adjusting accordingly.”