Faculty Excellence in Education Award: Kathy Chappelle, M.A.

In October 2012, six members of the School of Medicine faculty were recognized by their peers for excellence in teaching. This Q&A series profiles recipients of these 2012 "Faculty Excellence in Education Award" and asks the question, "Why do you teach?" (along with a few other questions).

Dr. ChappelleJune 12, 2013

Kathy Chappelle graduated in 1975 with a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Oregon, a B.A. in Education and English from Portland State University in 1982 and an M.A. in English Language and Literature from the University of Chicago in 1988, She came to the OHSU School of Medicine Dean's Office in 1992, where she played a key role in the development of the innovative Principles of Clinical Medicine (PCM) curriculum and acted as the PCM course administrator for the UME program. She was appointed to the faculty of the Department of Family Medicine in 1998, and is Assistant Professor and Director of Curriculum Development. Her personal interests include writing, photography, cultural studies and Jungian psychology. She is a candidate for a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and will be leaving OHSU at the end of June for a doctoral internship at George Fox University, including a clinical placement with the Providence Milwaukie Family Medicine Residency clinic.

Q&A with Kathy Chappelle, M.A.

Why do you teach?

I began my career as a high school English teacher. I first got into teaching because I had a passion for my subject, and I loved being able to instill an appreciation for literature and writing in my students and assist them in moving toward their goals in life. Although I initially came to medical education by chance, I stayed with it not because of a love of medicine per se, but because I found it inspiring to be working at the center of the OHSU major curriculum reform in the 1990s. At the time, the OHSU School of Medicine and the physicians I worked with were on the cutting edge of a national paradigm shift in medical education focusing on preparing physicians for more patient-centered medical care.

How has developing medical education curriculum influenced the way you teach?

I think I'm more organized and focused in my thinking now as far as presenting material. As a beginning English teacher, I was totally overwhelmed – grammar, spelling, the art of writing, literature appreciation – what do you start with? It took me awhile to figure out how to teach a variety of subject matter to students at various skill levels in an integrated manner. What I've appreciated in medical education is that you can take one topic, whether or not it seems connected, and the medical students make those connections and hold you to making it relevant for wherever they are in their medical education.

What are the top challenges for educators today at OHSU?

I think trying to design new curriculum in the midst of so many unknowns regarding our future systems of health care is extremely difficult. Decisions regarding what to change and what to retain will not be an easy task unless we have a clear image of the skills we wish our future graduates to have and a clear methodology for how we are going to teach those skills. Perhaps I'm a bit conservative in my views, but I value proven ("evidence-based") learning methods. I'm hoping that with all the talented minds at work on the new vision for our medical school curriculum that OHSU will make meaningful improvements while still retaining those portions of the medical school curriculum that have already proven to be very effective, such as our first- and second-year preceptorship, our rural training offerings, and our already robust emphasis in the curriculum on the behavioral and social sciences.

What do you see as the future direction in education?

The obvious answer is that we will continually need to integrate the use of new technology in both learning methodologies and in the practice of medicine. I think there is a lot of material that can be taught in medical school online, asynchronously, and in more creative ways than with standard lecture and test format. That said, as a psychologist and as a teacher, I believe that there are some aspects of both medical education and patient care that cannot be adequately addressed outside the context of meaningful human relationships.

What makes a good teacher?

A good teacher is someone who is fascinated with learning. I think that people can be very effective teachers when they are not very far ahead of their students. That's why our 4th year students in the medical education program are ideal teachers for our 1st and 2nd years in the same program – they remember that "I had problems getting my mind around this topic, too." As we think about future directions in education, I believe 4th years could be used as teachers in a formalized way such as requiring them to teach a block; it's good preparation for them as well because a big part of residency is working with other residents and with medical students.

Can you provide an anecdote that demonstrates "why you teach?"

As a high school English teacher, at the end of one school year I received a thank you letter from a student. He was a quiet boy, with long hair and thick glasses who always sat in the back of the classroom and who never spoke unless called upon. Frankly, I didn't feel I'd made enough of an effort to draw him out that year. I had, however, worked with him—as I had with all the students--on a poem he'd written during our creative writing unit. In his letter to me, this young man told me I was the only teacher who had ever taken the trouble to notice him, much less encourage him at anything. I think this exemplifies what many of us get from teaching: the opportunity to simply make a positive difference in someone's life: to "pay it forward."

How do you continue to learn so that you can continue to teach?

At age 52, I decided to go back to graduate school for a doctorate in clinical psychology. Having the openness to realize and admit that I don't know everything is important. "Beginner's mind" allows me to be open to learning from my mentors and peers as well as my learners.

What advice do you have for people who want to teach?

Simply have a passion for 1) your subject or 2) benefitting your learners. It's best to have both, but either one will carry you a long way toward being an effective teacher. Students value teachers who are effective at promoting learning; however, they also value those who relate to them personally, recognize their individual abilities, and support them in moving toward their goals. Becoming a health care professional is an admirable and challenging calling, and students at OHSU need teachers who both inspire and encourage them throughout an often lengthy educational process.