Why I Teach - Lisa Dodson, MD

Dr. DodsonSeptember’s Q&A features Lisa Grill Dodson, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Dodson received her medical degree from SUNY at Stony Brook, N.Y. She completed her residency at OHSU in Family Medicine and practiced in John Day, Oregon for seven years before returning to OHSU. Dr. Dodson is also Director of the Oregon Area Health Education Center.

Q&A With Lisa Dodson, MD

Why do you teach?
It’s both in my genes and in the family. My husband is a high school teacher and we both teach because we must. It’s something I feel makes me a complete physician. I embrace learning for its own sake and although I learn a great deal from my patients, the clinical interaction is only part of the educational imperative. Teaching – whether it is at OHSU or in the Talented and Gifted program in our former community of John Day – helps me become a better physician and person.

Do you learn from your students?
There is never a day when I don’t learn something from my students. Watching a student struggle through a procedure for the first time, or work through the best way to ask a patient a difficult question helps me to get better myself, and to be a better teacher for the next student. The questions students ask, their insights into culture and the joy they get from learning something new are contagious. It’s like watching light bulbs go on. It’s fun, engaging and I look for those moments. Not all the planning is fun, but it is invigorating to see students suddenly “get” it.

Have you modeled your teaching style or philosophy on anyone?
I’ve learned a great deal from Dr. John Saultz*. We are different in some respects, but he has a provocative style and believes that you learn most when you step just outside of your comfort zone. Other mentors include Dr. Scott Fields and Dr. Robert Taylor, who also have different styles. Outside of the Department of Family Medicine I have certainly benefited from teachers such as Dr. Tom Cooney, Dr. David Cook and Dr. Don Girard.

Are great teachers born, or are they made?
To a certain degree I think great teachers are born with a curiosity about how to convey information, but that’s not enough by itself. You have to work hard to develop a belief and confidence in your material. You also have to acquire an entertainer’s ability to gain and retain attention. I’ve always admired my husband’s ability to engage his students with great stories, but also not to throw it all out there at once - to leave something tantalizing for later.

What are the greatest challenges to teaching?
There are three: first, with so many obligations, teaching can be one of the last things you have time to focus on. It is difficult to keep teaching as a high priority, especially when it can’t always be directly compensated. Certainly I am here teaching because I choose to be, but bringing all the pieces together can be a tough balancing act.

Second, it is challenging to teach to the type of health care that is coming down the line because we are inventing it at the same time as trying to teach it. The health care environment in which I started my career in 1984 has gone forever. I am very conscious of the fact that the students I am teaching today will be the ones taking care of me in, say, 2025, and I am concerned about the model of care that a fairly broken health care system is currently defining for them. Helping students to be curious and creative has always been a part of my philosophy, and I hope there is still room for that in their own careers.

Third is the importance of continuing to train providers for the rural as well as the urban workforce. The building blocks of education are similar for both, but keeping the excitement for rural practice alive is a challenge. Many students do come to OHSU with excitement and energy for care to underserved populations, and we need to find more ways to encourage it.

What do you think is the future for health care education?
I believe we are looking at a model built around teams, not individuals. Health care in the future will require interpersonal and technological skills to connect us to colleagues and patients in different ways and we need to let our students guide us on some of these issues. On an institutional level, we need to make connections between different health care professions and to non-health care educational institutions and see what it is that they are getting right. Just as we can’t operate personally in silos any more, neither can we build a silo around the education of physicians.

How do you continue to learn so that you can continue to teach?
I gain a lot from plugging in to all kinds of different groups and setting up opportunities for what I call “random acts of information.”Like Woody Allen said, 80% of success is showing up. Organizations such as the Academy of Family Physicians and those specifically dedicated to rural health issues guide me in identifying the things I need to know and where to get the information I need. I love connecting with others and using that knowledge with my patients and students.

*John Saultz, MD, Professor and Chair Department of Family Medicine
Scott Fields, MD, Professor, Department of Family Medicine
Robert Taylor, MD, Emeritus Professor, Department of Family Medicine
Thomas Cooney, MD, Professor, Department of Medicine
David Cook, MD, Professor, Department of Medicine
Donald Girard, MD, J.S. Reinschmidt Jr. Professor of Medical Education and Associate Dean for Graduate Medical Education and Continuing Medical Education