Paul McGurgan is an academic obstetrician/ gynaecologist with research interests in teaching, medical professionalism, evidence-based medicine and simulation training. He is a keen advocate of medical student-led research. His goal in teaching is to fulfil his compatriot WB Yeats' idiom that ‘Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire'. "I feel that I have the best job in the world. To be a doctor and a teacher is synonymous; the term ‘doctor' originates from the Latin word ‘doctoris' meaning teacher. I was appointed to a clinical academic position (specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist) in 2007. This role means that I work as a specialist doctor three days a week, and then have dedicated time for the remainder of the week to pursue my research and teaching interests.
"One of the great strengths of being an academic doctor is the opportunity to incorporate teaching into my clinical practice. The medical students can be a pedagogical challenge - they often hail from diverse backgrounds, both undergraduate and mature postgraduate. My specialist field (obstetrics and gynaecology) deals with the health issues that women face through their lives. It is a great privilege to teach and mentor students and junior doctors through the many challenging clinical and ethical situations that can arise. For example, students may see women dealing with miscarriage, termination of pregnancy, childbirth, incontinence and cancer all in one day.
"I teach medical students, junior and senior doctors, nursing and midwifery staff and, last but not least, patients and their families. As such I need to be versatile, able to impart knowledge, skills and behaviour, and be attuned to the different perspectives and needs of the people I teach.
"There is not one way to teach and there are many ways to learn. Students need individualised approaches to their learning and it is the responsibility of the teacher to facilitate this. This is best demonstrated in my work with the UWA Personal and Professional Development program as I co-ordinate the mentoring program, teach other doctors how to be effective mentors, and have developed have a multi-modal teaching and assessment using mentoring, reflective portfolios, seminars and online resources.
"Teaching is a privilege. My goal in education is to engender in students the same degree of enthusiasm and interest that originally inspired me and continues to keep me motivated. Having been in my role for five years, I now see the medical students I once taught become the junior doctors on my clinical team; a vivid demonstration of the process of lifelong learning as a doctor.
"I am responsible for 12 undergraduate students who rotate through my unit every 10 weeks. The small numbers mean that we form a close teaching relationship during this time and often remain in contact after the rotation is completed. As part of the students' orientation to the hospital, I meet with them and have a get-to-know-you session: asking them about their backgrounds, interests, family lives, career expectations and anxieties.
"Students remark that it is unusual for senior doctors to do this, but I have found that this conversation is a great investment in obtaining an insight into the students' lives and what problems or issues to be mindful of. The open communication approach means that the students are less reticent about admitting when they are struggling which gives me the opportunity to put in place additional teaching or support processes.
"Obstetrics and gynaecology can be a confronting area of clinical practice, particularly for young, non-Australian, male medical students. These students can feel overwhelmed during the rotation and often approach me for advice and support. Students respond positively to my interactions as noted in these comments:
"I had the privilege of sitting in a consultation with him with a difficult patient. His manner of consultation and discussion with the patient reflects years of experience, tact and knowledge, something that is very inspirational to watch and I aspire to be more like him some day in my professional career. (Year 5 student 2011)."
Published in UWA News, 25 June 2012