Heal Thyself: What Good Teachers Can Teach Bad Doctors


We only meet them at our weakest moments. We trust them to make the right diagnosis and to help us get healthy again. They are among society’s most venerated figures. It seems almost sacrilegious to suggest that there would be something that a lowly figure like a teacher could teach a medical professional.

But there are substandard doctors out there. And there a few things good teachers do that could help bad doctors to heal their bad habits:

  • Get yourself organized. Teachers have to teach many different classes a day and coach in the afternoons and set lessons and mark work and juggle time for everyday emergencies. We don’t make anyone wait. So why do I have to wait so long after my appointment time when I need a doctor? Surely you can build some tolerance into your schedule so that when consultations run over time, or you accept an emergency booking, you have a buffer and people don’t have to wait so long pretending to read outdated issues of Golf Digest? If I can’t cope, I say so – I would rather do less, and do it well, than treat my students like half-built things on an assembly line.
  • Email the pharmacy. If I sent illegibly scribbled notes home to parents, I would be hauled over the coals. You have all manner of sophisticated diagnostic machines but you still can’t figure out a secure way to send my prescriptions digitally?
  • The patient is more important than the malady. My students are more important than the syllabus. As fascinated as I might be with learning and the content I teach, if I don’t make time to reach out to my students and treat them like human beings, the whole process of education doesn’t work as well. Surely the healing game is the same? If you treat your patients like experiments or vectors or broken machines and you’re more interested in what ails than the person doing the ailing, I suspect you will miss a great deal and your treatment options will be less effective.
  • If you can’t figure out what’s going on, or there is no answer, say so. I have to admit that there are things I don’t know and rather than deflect or delay, I admit it upfront. That way my students can look elsewhere for their answers.
  • Sometimes all I need is a renewal on my script for my chronic medication. If I know I’m healthy and doing well, do I really need to pay for a consultation? This feels a little like forcing a child to pay for an extra lesson they know they don’t need. Would that be ethical?
  • You might know what’s wrong with me, but I often don’t. Don’t dismiss me so easily. Imagine if I chased my students out of my classroom when they asked for a diagnosis of where their mistakes were made. If they know, they can work with me to fix what’s wrong. I might not be a doctor, but I am an intelligent human being – take some time to explain what’s going on so that I can help you to help me.
  • Make sure you charge me only if you have actually done something to help me. Too many of you make obscene amounts of money by scheduling ‘follow up appointments’ where you don’t really tell me anything new. I will never make what you make, no matter how unethical I am, but I do try to make every lesson a worthwhile experience for my students.
  • And finally, listen to your patients. Diagnosis is a two-way game. Like teaching.


And teachers, you don’t get off that easily. Think about the best doctors out there. They’re compassionate, concerned professionals who constantly work to update their skills and their knowledge. Can you say the same thing?


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