Mentoring future physicians


A Different Drum

Malaya Pimentel-Santos, MD

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically.” – Martin Luther King

I TEACH medical microbiology and parasitology for second year medical students, a subject that covers the various bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and other miscellaneous infectious agents that cause disease in humans. Looking at the bigger picture, it is just a small piece of medical education, nonetheless it is my own little venue to contribute to the molding of future physicians who (we hope) will learn and espouse the core values of competence, excellence, compassion, and integrity.

Teaching is an awesome profession – vocation, even – and I am proud to say that my students are awesome as well. As an educator, I cannot, in all honesty, take much of the credit. When students are smart to begin with, and with the availability of digital information and communications technology, teachers no longer have a monopoly on content and subject matter. Much to the contrary, today’s learners have loads of information literally at their fingertips.

Harnessing technological tools

I belong to the generation that remembers sitting through lectures that used blackboards, overhead projectors, and kodachrome slide projectors. These days, Power Point presentations, digital photos and even videos, and animated lectures are more the norm than the exception.

During class recitations, when a professor asks a question in class, students can easily search the answer online, with the help of rethe infamous Google.

Nonetheless, just like in many other industries, technological advances have brought both educational challenges and opportunities. More than simply sharing facts and experience, today’s educators also have to guide their mentees in critically navigating the proverbial information highway. Moreover, teachers now face the struggle of engaging the attention of the students and competing with so many other digital distractions.

And as we work to raise the standards of medical education to the level of global competitiveness, we also have to remember to keep it relevant to the needs of our own population, and to not forget the other factors that affect health: The so-called social determinants.

Connectivity and health expenditures

According to the 2014 statistical yearbook of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, our population grew from 60 million to 100 million between 1990 and 2014.

As of 2009, roughly one-fourth of our population is still living below the poverty line. As of 2012, significant portion of Filipinos still did not have adequate access to water and sanitation. On the other hand, the same data indicates that mobile and Internet connectivity may have overtaken even these basic social services.

As of 2013, there were 104 mobile cellular subscriptions and 37 fixed Internet subscribers per 100 persons.

In a 2012 report of the World Health Organization and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, it was stated that 62.3 percent of the country’s total health expenditure came from private sources (i.e. only 37.7 percent came from government funding). Of the private expenditure on health, 83.5 percent was categorized as being out-of-pocket. Not very good statistics when we consider that the goal is universal access to health.

Outcome-based education

Clearly, the socio-economic and technological milieu has changed much in the last two decades. As we work to meet the demands of the modern era, educators are turning towards outcome-based education (OBE).

In its Handbook on Typology, Outcomes-Based Education, and Institutional Sustainable Assessment, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) defines OBE as “an approach that focuses and organizes the educational system around what is essential for all learners to know, value, and be able to do to achieve a desired level of competence”.

In other words, OBE is learner – rather than teacher-centered; and focuses on goals (outcomes) in designing every stage of the learning process.

The directive to move towards OBE covers all higher education institutions, including medical schools, as a response to the changing realities faced by the country’s higher education institutions in this era of globalization (a.k.a. ASEAN integration). This is particularly timely, as I am also part of a small delegation of dedicated faculty from the St. Luke’s College of Medicine at the annual convention of the Association of Philippine Medical Colleges (APMC), which is focused around the theme “The Changing Role of the Medical Teacher”.

It has been a hugely educational experience for me, reinforcing the notion that learning never ends, even for us educators. One way to view education is to think of it as a partnership where teachers and students commit to work together because they share a common goal: To confer (or to earn) a medical degree. Even more importantly, teachers have to help bring a balance to medical education so that students don’t lose a part of their humanity in the process of absorbing all the volumes of medical details. And I am reminded of something I have told my students in the past – that no one ever promised that medical school would be easy, just that it would be worth it.

Vital Signs Issue 85 Vol. 4, March 1-31 2016