Why I Teach: Megan Troxell, MD, PhD

Dr. TroxellLast November, five members of the School of Medicine faculty were recognized by their peers for excellence in teaching. This Q&A series profiles recipients of the 2011 "Faculty Excellence in Education Award" and asks them the question, "Why do you teach?"

This month's Q&A features Megan Troxell, MD, PhD, Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology. Dr. Troxell earned her PhD in Molecular and Cellular Physiology from Stanford University in and her MD from Stanford University, both in 2000. She completed a residency in pathology followed by Stanford University Medical Center and fellowships in renal pathology & immunohistology and surgical pathology at Stanford University Medical Center, 2000 to 2004. She joined the OHSU faculty in 2005. Dr. Troxell's research focuses on renal pathology, immunohistochemistry, GU pathology, breast pathology and transplantation pathology. She is medical director of the Immunohistochemistry Lab.

Q&A with Megan Troxell, MD, PhD

How did you first become attracted to an academic career?
I came into academic medicine from a research angle long ago. I thought I would end up in a basic science lab, but after medical school and graduate school, I found that I really loved teaching and clinical work in pathology, as well as research.

Why do you teach?
It's fantastic to see the 'light bulb' go off when someone sees or understands something for the first time. An example would be in lab when the pages in the book or the pictures on the screen turn into a real example that the student finds on a slide in the case of pathology or histology.

Do you learn from your students?
Absolutely. It's questions and interest from students, residents and colleagues that keep my lectures and labs evolving. Sometimes the dogma of a discipline is so ingrained, we take some of the fundamentals for granted. Often students ask questions that I'm too narrow minded to think about.

Have you modeled your teaching style or philosophy on anyone?
I've been lucky to have some great role models in the department here.Dr. Houghton, Professor of Pathology, is one.

Are great teachers born, or are they made?
Both.I think you have to have an innate interest and energy for teaching, but everyone can adapt and improve over time.

Does the wide-ranging diversity of your students affect how you teach?
Students have different backgrounds and different learning styles, so I think it's important to have both didactic lecture and small group/lab to cover various topics.

What are the great challenges to teaching in the 21st century?
I think it's the time crunch and the vast and ever-expanding body of medical knowledge that students are expected to master. Students have to ingest facts at such a rapid pace that there is less opportunity to delve into and understand the background. In a way, we suffer from an excess of resources, particularly online. We are all lacking the patience to read something in greater detail than just a sound bite or abstract. I probably sound like a curmudgeon!

Do challenges open up new opportunities?
Of course. There are many new and innovative ways to acquire and convey knowledge. I think we have to find those that are interesting, fun and effective.

What do you think education will look like at OHSU in the future?
There are obviously big changes coming with the new facility at the waterfront.Talk about challenges and opportunities…

How do you continue to learn so that you can continue to teach?
I realized in residency, finally, that I learn best hands-on. I hadn't had that much exposure to hands-on, practical environments before medical school. So often I find cases more memorable than books and articles. We have this great conference every day where we look at the interesting and challenging pathology slides, and I learn a lot from my colleagues and residents at that conference.