By Franz Wiesbauer, MD MPH - 26th Apr 2021 - The Medmastery show

Medical educator secrets: How to become a rockstar teacher in 6 simple steps

Albert Einstein, an inspiration to all medical educators

If you cannot explain something simply, you don't understand it well enough.—Albert Einstein

 

Do you ever get the feeling that you’re talking over people’s heads when you teach? Try out the Feynman Technique to simplify your message and boost your medical teaching success!

 

Teach like a Nobel Laureate

Iconic physicist, Richard Feynman, was a pioneer in the field of quantum electrodynamics. His research on the interaction of light and matter earned him a Nobel Prize in 1965.

As a physicist, Feynman was famous for his ability to learn concepts, distill them down, and then teach them successfully. Bill Gates called Richard Feynman "the greatest teacher I never had.”

The good news, here, is that as medical educators, you can learn to distill concepts down just like Feynman did. If he could do it for quantum electrodynamics, you can surely do it for topics that are less complex!

 

What’s in it for you?

The Feynman Technique can help you do two things:

1. Be a better learner

2. Be a better teacher

Medical educator learning and then teaching using the Feynman technique

Are you ready to try it out? Just apply these six easy steps.

 

Step 1: Select a topic that you want to learn about or teach

Avoid concepts that are too big (like the theory of relativity). Focus on a narrow concept that can be taught in five minutes or less.

 

Step 2: Pretend that you’re teaching the topic to a child

Write down everything you know about the subject, as if you’re explaining it to a 12-year-old. This person has just enough attention span and vocabulary to understand basic concepts.

If you’re teaching an advanced medical concept and can’t avoid medical vocabulary like red blood cells or AV node, then target your explanation toward a biology-savvy, 17-year-old high school student.

Student with a light bulb over her head after learning with Feynman technique

This exercise will force you to use simple words. Acknowledging the attention span of a child or an adolescent will make you get to the point without extra details. 

To be successful, you’ll need to come up with good analogies, examples, and visualizations. Not only do these techniques work well with kids, but they can be great for adults too. 

The end result will be simplicity and brevity.

 

Step 3: Review your explanation and identify the holes in your understanding

A confused medical educator trying to understand a topic better

Find the spots where you got stuck. Where was it hard for you to come up with simple terms or a simple explanation?

Remember Einstein's words—when there's an aspect to a problem that you can't explain in simple words, it usually means that you don't understand it well enough.

Once you know where you're having problems, go back to the source material and re-learn it until you can explain it in basic terms. Doing so will force you to understand the concept at a deeper level. You’ll form new relationships and connections between previously isolated concepts.

 

Step 4: Read your explanation aloud and make it even simpler

This is the editing stage of the process.

Read aloud what you have written.

Make sure you didn't use any jargon. Avoiding jargon ensures clarity for learners from varying educational and language backgrounds. It also reduces confusion in cases where medical abbreviations may be the same, but have different meanings based on context. Does PT mean physical therapy, prothrombin time, preterm, or something else entirely?

A medical educator confusing a student with medical jargon

If the explanation isn't simple or still sounds confusing, that's a sign that your understanding in that area needs some refinement.

 

Step 5: Do a test-run (optional)

Run your explanation by a 12-year-old, or someone who knows very little about the subject. The ultimate test of the quality of your explanation is your ability to convey it to another person. Can your test-learner understand the material after a first pass through?

If you still find areas that need more work, go back to the source material and refine them. 

If you’re happy, your written explanation becomes the script for your presentation or other teaching materials.

A medical educator's notes being converted to script for a video

 

Step 6: Create teaching materials

Based on the script you created, come up with ideas for illustrations, photos, or schematics that will help to support and clarify your explanation. If you came up with great analogies and examples, you’ll have no problem coming up with ideas for your visuals.

A medical educator admiring the video she made using the Feynman technique

 

Once you have the Feynman Technique down pat, you can reproduce it for all of the content you teach. You’ll have another tool in your belt to help you become a stellar online teacher!