Those who can, teach #2

Last week I spent a session sitting in with a GP who works in bariatric medicine- similar to me, but she has been doing it for seven years. I learned a lot during the session. She involved me in the consultations and spent a good amount of time answering my questions and discussing cases. Since then I have received emails from her with useful references and resources. She has also offered to talk with me over Skype about my own cases.

This was all pro bono.

I know. I am duly humbled and very appreciative of the valuable time I have been given.

One of the lovely aspects of the medical profession is our propensity to mentor each other; helping shape junior doctors into kind and expert clinicians who will give their patients the very best of care.

Often this guidance is unpaid, yet many doctors give so generously of their time and wisdom for the sole reason of improving the care of future patients. Part of being a doctor is looking after our colleagues and aiding each other’s learning. As we work for the benefit of our patients above all, their wellbeing is often the only incentive for our efforts.

I’m a member of the Facebook forum GPs Down Under. This is a cluster of GPs in Australia and New Zealand who offer each other advice and support online. It’s a fantastic group. One GP on the forum said she was talking to a lawyer friend about our forum, who was apparently stunned that we were ‘giving our time and expertise away for free’ (or similar).

I wrote recently about my dear friend in Virginia who passed away last month. She was a shining example of a clinician who was dedicated to fostering the learning of her colleagues and students. She would stay up in the evenings coaching residents for their vivas. She tirelessly taught me, fed me, nurtured me, all out of the goodness of her heart. I know she cared for others in this same way, friends and colleagues alike.

The time I spent with her and the rest of the team at Atlantic Anesthesia was so valuable. And they weren’t paid a cent. It’s not like I was a US med student and a potential future member of their team. I was an Aussie med student and future Aussie doc. What was in it for them?

Knowing that some patients somewhere, some day, will receive better quality care as a result of your careful instruction- this is one incentive. The other? Genuine care for our colleagues, wanting to support them in their development as clinicians and help them flourish.

I think that’s pretty damn amazing.

I would love to hear your stories about memorable mentors and caring coaches, who I know are not limited to the healthcare professions.

Image: Dr De Loony as an impressionable med student far from home, in Virginia USA.



  1. An inspiring piece, thank you. As in interesting twist, one of my mentors, Mike Cadogan, FOAM pioneer and legend, wrote a blog post addressing the hidden costs of giving / mentorship on Life in the Fast Lane. Worth a read.

    I wrote the following reply:

    Mike, I was first inspired by your wise words, passion for medical education and embracing of technology for teaching, at the turn of the century in Brisbane. Emergency medicine was my first ever rotation as a doctor and you were my supervising registrar. I still remember the gems, the jokes and the support… and have visions of you excitedly adding interesting X-rays and ECGs to your digital collection, sharing them with whomever was hanging around the doctors’ desk at the time.

    Since that time, thanks to your ongoing passionate and selfless efforts, and being an IT trailblazer in medical education, your influence has extended worldwide, to thousands upon thousands of doctors. You have helped create a movement, an ethos – levelled the playing field and changed the rules. I, like so many, stand in awe and am immensely grateful.

    And with this post, you imparted more wisdom which has inspired me, albeit of a slightly different kind. There was an honesty and a vulnerability in your writing which spoke volumes. You articulated so well what so many of struggle with in trying to juggle our passion for education and desire to give freely of our time and expertise, with the social, financial and time pressures of “real” life.

    There are no easy solutions. As you so rightly pointed out, people are better at receiving than giving and “free” comes at a cost. We need to share the load.

    I would like to think that you (and your like-minded colleagues) have lit enough sparks to allow the FOAMed fire to burn brightly for the foreseeable future, with or without input from its founding fathers. Surely there are enough people out there determined to pay it forwards. I know I am.

    Thank you again…

    1. Thank you Genevieve for your thoughtful words. I read Mike’s post. Good food for thought.
      You are someone who contributes a lot to others’ learning but I get the impression you may be good at finding the right balance.
      I am finding that I have more to give if I work less, exercise more, write, play music and connect in ‘real life’ with people who enhance my life (rather than drain my energy).
      One of my patients when I was a first term GP reg commented that I was ‘really caring’ and then said: ‘Don’t you get burnt out!’
      I think it can be those who offer everything to the world who are in danger of being left with nothing. Then they might resent the world and become less generous and more cynical. I think Mike is right- learning to say no and to reserve time for family is vital.

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