Master and apprentice | AMA (WA)


Surgeons group walking

Master and apprentice

Monday May 30, 2022

Jarrad Zylstra, President, Medical Students Association of Notre Dame

Traipsing the hospital corridors as a glassy-eyed medical student with a decorative stethoscope may evoke recent or distant memories, but nonetheless harks back to a period we have all endured.  From this time, each of you will recall doctors you looked up to and those who kept you up at night.

The doctor-student relationship is a dynamic as old as the profession itself and like anything involving people, brings with it a smorgasbord of complexities and intricacies.

The ultimate goal we all share is for doctors to train the next generation to be competent, compassionate, resilient, and any other adjective you’d associate with a medical graduate who has their head screwed on.

There is no one method, no one style of teaching, and no one type of personality that can accomplish this with each student.

As a current fourth-year student, I can attest to having engaged with a number of different supervisors who each added their own impression on my understanding of medicine. Some drilled into me an unforgettable mantra such as where my foot will end up if I fail to digitally examine the rectum. Some have made me question why I threw away a career in Physiotherapy. Some, in the short space of a single rotation, forever moulded my vision of how a good doctor approaches a patient through simple yet time-honoured advice: always
start with a good history, treat the patient before their investigation findings, and all bleeding stops eventually.

There is one practical tip worth sharing that can help both a student and supervising doctor get the most out of their time together, and that is to clearly establish what the student’s requirements are for their placement. Though this may seem obvious, these requirements differ based on year level, rotation, and university.

The requirements may include being assessed on performing a history/examination, on writing a discharge summary, or performing a procedure like intravenous cannulation. Talking with the student early on in their placement to clarify what their university requires affords
them the confidence to ask to be assessed and helps you target your teaching accordingly.

The culture in medicine is moving toward promoting the wellbeing and longevity of junior doctors coming through the ranks. The flow-on effects of this are being felt and seen by the medical students who consult JMOs on where to preference for internships (these conversations focus heavily on which hospitals have cinnamon scrolls in the doctors’ common room).

This paradigm shift does not come without trade-offs. I recently had a fascinating conversation with a physician who felt that there needs to be a balance in this cultural revolution, as some of the most capable young doctors in our health system (read: the Irish) come
from a baptism-of-fire where they have forged their skills under the pressures of long shifts, heaving wards, and a lack of senior support.

Wherever this ideal cultural balance may lie, and ebb and flow over time, the necessity of a healthy doctor-student relationship doesn’t fade. Just as the importance of a carpenter honing their craft is paralleled only by the need for them to pass on their learnings to their apprentice, so too does the medical profession rely on the learning of our students.