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Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine
MD Education

Tips on Maintaining a Healthy Learning Environment

When supervising students:

  1.  Absences from the clerkship.  In general, students should discuss absences with the clerkship director.  If a student has received clearance from the clerkship director for an appointment or event, please do not ask for any additional information as this is an excused absence.  If a student asks you to be excused for a short period of time, for example for a doctor’s appointment, please do not ask the student for details regarding their appointment or ask for any information about a medical or mental health condition. The best approach is to ask the student to discuss any absence with the clerkship director.
  2. Personal information.  We encourage you to try to get to know your students.  We recommend asking open ended questions such as “I like to get to know the students I work with.  Can you tell me a little about yourself/your career interests?”  Please don’t ask students specific questions which can be misinterpreted such as:
    • Where were you born? 
    • What’s your family’s nationality?
    • What religion are you?
    • What is your first language?
    • Are you married? 
    • Are you in a relationship or are you single?
    • Who are you voting for in the upcoming election?
  3. Grades and Career Plans.  All students are trying to do well and are nervous about grades in the clinical years which are no longer based solely on multiple choice tests.  Don’t make comments about their grade even in a joking manner.  For example, “Well you didn’t know the answer to that question so there goes your Honors!”  These types of comments cause unnecessary stress on students.  Similarly, don’t make jokes about a student’s career plans.  For example, “you’re going into X and not our specialty so you probably don’t need to know this.”  All students have the same clerkship objectives so please treat all students the same regardless of career plans.
  4. Personal errands.  Every year, a handful of students report that they were asked to run errands for a faculty member or resident. This is not permitted.  In addition, please do not ask students to leave the clinical service to get food or coffee.  A better approach is for the entire team to eat a meal/grab coffee together.
  5. General advice.  Please:
    • Don’t give the students nicknames. 
    • Don’t assume students speak a particular language based on their name. 
    • Do not ask students to serve as interpreters.
    • Don't make comments about another student or resident’s performance
    • Don’t make comments that disparage another specialty
    • Don’t make critical comments about work hour restrictions.  It is not the student’s fault that duty hours are in place. 
    • Don't ask students about their performance on previous clerkships unless they are asking for career advice.

Rule of common sense: don't ask a student any question that you would not want asked of you or that you would resent if this was a family member.

Although the above was written for students it is equally applicable for residents, fellows and graduate students.

We realize that teaching takes time.  It is also fun and rejuvenating.  Students and residents/fellows keep us current and are the future of medicine.  Please keep our learning environment safe, healthy and educational at all times.

Recommended Readings:

Montenegro, RE,  My Name is not "Interpreter", JAMA,  Volume 315, Number 19, 2071-2072.

Olayiwda, JN,  Racism in Medicine: Shifting the Power, Ann Fam Med 2016;14:267-269.