July 19, 2021

​Enhancing the learning experience by making the best of feedback

Bruce Peyser, MD, FACP
Director of Education and Teaching, Duke Primary and Urgent Care
Physician, Duke Primary Care Pickett Road

Professor of Medicine, Duke University School of Medicine

As educators, we spend quite a bit of time looking at how best to give feedback to our students. While preparing for Duke Primary Care’s faculty development seminar in October, I came across a valuable article that details the ways our learners, and all of us teachers, can best receive feedback in order to make the experience more valuable.

The article is entitled “Twelve tips for making the best use of feedback,” and it is part of an ongoing series published every few months in Medical Teacher.

The authors explore an important premise in the article: “even valid, reliable and effectively given feedback is useless when not well received and put into practice to improve performance.” Then they provided some tips that might allow students to carry out self-assessment, redefine goals, and create stronger, more effective learning plans.

The quality of the tips varied. Some I thought were super helpful; others I thought were less granular and more focused on big-picture career development.

My favorite tip was the first one and had to do with receiving and reflecting upon the presumed written feedback in a mindful manner, setting aside protected time to carefully read what was written. If some of the feedback was a surprise or was distressing, the authors recommended the learner take time to reflect on what was said. “Like sand in muddy water needs time to sink to the bottom before you can see through clear water again,” they explained.

I know personally there have been times when someone has told me something upsetting, and I usually find that “sleeping on it” helps give me some perspective to understand what was conveyed.

While reading or hearing feedback, the authors encouraged learners to try to keep in mind their professional goals, and to pick out the pearls that might be most valuable to their personal development. Coaching within the article indicated “you are the one who decides whether you can and will do something with the feedback.”

If you get a chance, take a look at the article. And if you find it valuable, you might keep an eye out for this series, because the articles are brief and practical. But possibly I liked this article because the authors, who are from Amsterdam, suggested feedback should best be discussed over a glass of wine!