Accept Your Role as a Teacher, Part II

MBA Chiropractic Consulting

In part I of this series we established the fact that as chiropractic doctors we have a responsibility to share our tremendous wealth of health care knowledge by teaching others the tremendous benefit in getting chiropractic care.  With that said let´s start with the basics of teaching.

Starting with the basics

The wonderful thing about teaching is that it is something we can learn to do and do well. We can acquire skills that will help us be better communicators and more efficiently pass along the knowledge that we have and others need.  It´s not a person´s I.Q. level that determines how good a teacher he or she will be, it´s how passionate that person is about sharing and communicating their knowledge to someone else.

Teaching by example

Consider this teaching moment: Mom and dad are sitting in the living room watching television when their seven year old comes in from playing.  He walks up to daddy and says, “daddy, how come you tell me I am never supposed to watch “R’ rated movies and you and mommy do all the time?’  This is a teaching moment – the child´s question has generated a lesson to the parents.  

What can we learn from this? It is simple! If you want your patients to do something you ask them to do you should be doing the same thing. Consider your counsel. Do you get regular adjustments? Are you on a regular exercise program? Do you eat nutritiously? Do you take time out for family, friends and recreation? Teaching by example is the most powerful form of teaching and it is where we should all begin.
Teaching calls for practicing skills

Whether you´re an extrovert or not, has little bearing on how good of a teacher you can become. Teaching is a skill and how well you master that skill determines whether you will be a good teacher or a great one.  The very best teachers, those whose students learn the most, share the following commonalities:

• they are appropriately empathetic and understanding to their students
• they exude a sincere desire for their students to learn and understand
• they use motion, illustrations, voice inflections, involvement, object lessons and enthusiasm to keep • their students´ attention focused on the subject being taught

“I don´t know but I´ll find out’ always works

A paralyzing fear that some doctors have in teaching, lecturing, or meeting with attorneys and other professionals, is not having the answer to every question that might be asked.  To be a great teacher, you need to get used to the fact that you will never have all of the answers.  However, never leave a question unanswered.  Your best response would be something like, “I don´t know but I have some good resources that will help me get that answer.  I´ll let you know what I find out.’  Be sure to get the answer as fast as you can and then give it to the person who asked the question.      

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Keep Things Simple

Periodically tape your report of findings to patients and listen to them.   I used my driving time for these reviews, as there were few distractions and it made the most of otherwise unproductive time.  As you listen to your reports, put yourself in your patient´s place – you do not have the chiropractic knowledge that your doctor has, you might be hurting, you might be anxious or afraid, you might be skeptical or frustrated – then, imagine how the patient is interpreting what you are reporting to him or her.  Is the patient able to clearly understand what you are saying?  You will be surprised at how time has dulled your ability to keep things simple.

As doctors, we do a lot of studying and reading and words that used to be foreign to us become very common.  A word can become so common to us that we are surprised when we use it and the person we are speaking to doesn´t know what it means – we have changed our language pattern and don´t even realize it.  As an example, I have lived two periods of time in Latin countries for a total of five years.  I also continued to travel and visit wonderful sites throughout Central and South America.  For months after returning from these trips, I found myself initiating conversations in Spanish, whether the person I was speaking to was Spanish speaking or not.  I had become so used to speaking in Spanish that I sometimes forgot to consider the person to whom I was speaking.  You can see how failing to consider the other person can result in a zero transmission of information or knowledge.  This is the same sort of thing that can easily happen in your report of findings and patient visits as you continue your time and experience in the world of health.

Imagine a patient and his or her spouse in a report of findings hearing this, “Mrs. Jones, your problem is that you have a subluxation due to a retrolisthesis and a disc herniation. This is a posterior herniation from the nucleus pulposus creating this fiber tearing and bulging, which is placing pressure on the anterior aspect of the spinal cord. This is causing the parathesias, weakness and the sciatic pain bilaterally on the lower extremities.’ You might think that you don´t do it, but all doctors do it to some degree more or less - hopefully less. The fact is that the language we speak within our health care profession becomes a common part of our English language, and we use these words unconsciously.  Unfortunately, when we do so, not only do our patients and other lay people not understand what we are saying, most will not tell us they don´t understand.  If your patients don´t understand what you are trying to tell them, you are failing them as a teacher and as a doctor – you are failing to convey the knowledge that will help them.

In conclusion, be aware of your “doctor’ language. Take the complex words and make them simple.  For example, substitute “not functioning or not moving correctly’ for “hypomobility’; “pain down the back of your leg’ for “sciatica’; “pinched or irritated nerve’ for “neuropathophysiology’; “bone spurs or extra buildup of bone tissue’ for “degenerative arthritis’; “prickling or tingling’ for “parathesia,’ etc.   There are many changes you can make in your vocabulary that will improve your communications with your patients.  Not until your patients understand the basics of chiropractic and their particular health conditions should you even consider teaching them the more proper words like subluxation, degenerative arthritis, cervicalgia, etc.

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