Chair's Column: Dear Department of Medicine learners — We will continue to support you in any way that we can

Jan 29, 2021
Dr. Gillian Hawker

Teaching In DoMDear Department of Medicine Learners,

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for your contributions to our pandemic response. You have played a crucial role in caring for our patients. This has been an atypical year for formalized learning, but you have risen to every challenge, despite much uncertainty, and I know our faculty members and patients are grateful.

Your feedback both on our teaching and your learning is important to us. I wrote this Chair’s Column before the Royal College rendered its decision about the IM PGY3 exam. I want to let you know that we have heard your response on this matter over the weekend and that we are actively advocating on your behalf for this decision to be reconsidered.

The personal and professional well-being of all our community members is of the utmost importance to us. We will continue to do our best to support you in any way that we can.

Arno Kumagai, Vice-Chair of Education, will be in touch with you all shortly.


Dear MD students, residents and fellows,

I am writing to you on behalf of our DoM faculty members to thank you for your feedback on their teaching.

Back in 2017, we surveyed the faculty about these evaluations. Most agreed that their trainee evaluations reflected their teaching efforts well. But they also felt that their trainee evaluations often reflected structural and systemic issues in the educational system, in particular increased clinical workloads, over which they had little control. Just as you worry about your evaluations and their impact on your career opportunities, so too are our faculty concerned about giving you anything less than the highest praise.

At this time of year, in my role as DoM Chair, I get to write letters to the Dean recommending the promotion of faculty members. This year, I have 45 to write… I’m a little more than half way through! As part of the senior promotions process, our office solicits “student testimonials” from former trainees of the promotion candidates. These testimonials are extremely important in the promotion review process for all faculty, not just clinician teachers, as this is a university and we are all expected to be effective teachers! Former students are asked to comment on the faculty member’s: mastery of the subject area, skill at communication, ability to stimulate and challenge your intellectual capacity and to influence the development of your intellectual and critical skills.

Each year, as I write my decanal letters, I have the privilege of reading these letters. And, each year, I am awed by the depth of appreciation you extend to our teachers. I’m also sad that I cannot share these testimonials with the faculty members about whom they are written, especially in a year like this one. While promotion candidates require only three testimonials, it is pretty much the norm that we receive twice or three times that many. Despite COVID, this year is no exception! So, on their behalf, I want to thank you for taking the time to write what you write about our incredibly dedicated faculty in their roles as teachers, mentors and supervisors.

Thank you!

Our faculty care deeply about your feedback  your comments have the ability to produce the highest highs and the lowest lows. With this in mind, I hope you won’t mind if I share with them through this column some of your comments. To preserve anonymity, all physicians have been identified as “X”.

Here we go:

“X has a distinctive way of keeping learners engaged so that learning material is retained.”

“One of the best staff to work with, super patient, always gave me the chance to come up with my own decisions and plans before teaching around the case, very supportive, and made it a fun and positive experience. Amazing teacher.”

“X is truly passionate about his trainees and prepares them to succeed in their careers. X has been a strong advocate and key supporter for me at crucial moments in my training and career path.”

“…communication abilities are perhaps best demonstrated in X’s ability to connect with trainees about the intensely human and emotional responses we may experience in treating (specific disease) patients.”

“X has been a great role-model because X is authentic in pursuit of X’s vision, working steadily toward practical goals, and willing to share the humanity of the experience in the process.”

“X was able to deliver each concept with clarity at a level appropriate to young learners” and possessed an “eagerness to spark a passion in trainees who are considering a future career in the field of (specialty).”

“X is easily one of the best staff physicians I have ever worked with … X encourages learners to challenge their clinical reasoning… creates a safe intellectual atmosphere that nourishes critical independent thinking… genuinely has the resident’s interest at heart when it comes to our career development.”

“…X has the true mark of a professor in their capacity to persevere and maintain education through uncertainty and hardship.”

“I had the privilege of working directly under X in a clinical setting for two years of my (specialty) training. Looking back over the past five years of training, my weekly clinics under X’s guidance were a true highlight. X not only made an effort to teach and mentor me, but also took the time to get to know me as a person, which allowed X to become even more effective as a teacher.”

“X is a gifted teacher. X has an uncanny ability to use a single clinical case to teach a new concept to trainees at different levels. I have seen X use a case of (specific condition) to simultaneously yet meaningfully address the different learning needs of a second-year medical student, a clerk, a resident, and a (specialty) fellow. X has a unique way of breaking a clinical approach down into small, manageable pieces that facilitate comprehension and later recall.”

“After many of my call shifts, X has subsequently followed up with me to ask about my shifts, what I encountered / learned and whether I was successful in my ‘challenge.’ I can honestly say that this practice has made me a better doctor and a better (specialty) trainee and I am indebted to X for their care and dedication to teaching and my growth.”

…one of (the) most intelligent, caring, and selfless physicians with whom I have had the privilege of working.

“Most importantly, X is an outstanding clinician and communicator, creates a comfortable environment for learners and provides outstanding medical care to patients.”

“X set a higher goal for what I could accomplish on this rotation than I had for myself, and I came away from this rotation a better resident, clinician, and teacher because of X.”

“From a research perspective, X is truly inspirational…projects are of the highest quality…ability to critically think through a research question and design an approach to answering that question is impressive.”

“…X is a role model for the type of clinician I want to be someday – a well-respected expert in their field but also very approachable and respectful to others, regardless of their position.”

“As an aspiring clinician scientist myself, X is my most important role model. X’s clinical skills, knowledge, teaching abilities, research creativity, productivity, and leadership are that of the highest caliber among the faculty in (discipline).”

“X’s clinical teaching invariably creates an effective, respectful and stimulating learning environment. X’s ward teaching has inspired my own teaching style on the ward as a senior resident.”

“In all respects X has been a true role model for me, and an exemplary ambassador for the University of Toronto and the Department of Medicine”.

“X exhibits excellent professionalism and inter-professional skills with patients, members of his team, and other healthcare staff. X has impeccable respect for everyone with whom he comes into contact.”

These are just a few of hundreds and hundreds of comments you made. Once again, thank you!

Dr. Hawker signatureDr. Gillian Hawker
Sir John and Lady Eaton Professor and Chair of Medicine


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