February 3, 2023

Ski Essay – April 2022

I just returned from a family ski trip to Steamboat Springs, Colorado.  During this time, we set out to teach our daughter’s boyfriend Joe how to ski for the very first time.  Watching this process unfold, I was struck with the similarities to what happens when our providers within DPC first begin to learn how to teach in our clinics.


Joe was a motivated learner.  He is an accomplished athlete and enjoys learning new skill sets within his work life as a captain in the marines, where he has led an artillery platoon for the last three years.  More importantly, he wanted to learn to ski because he knows how much my daughter loves skiing.  The chance to acquire some new ski swag and gear also sweetened the deal.


When we have new providers to DPC, we know that the decision about timing for when they should start to teach is critical.  We usually delay iniation of teaching until ~ 18 months from whence they started.  This typically allows the new providers to become adjusted to their routine for the provision of clinical care within the clinic.  When the provider is started out with some teaching, we urge them to try the process slowly, and deliberately.  This can be done by the inclusion of the new provider in the group rotation that occurs whereby all providers at a site take a turn teaching a particular learner over the course of a few weeks.  Some providers can sign up to teach a first-year medical student for several sessions, and the focus there is upon review of best ways for students to interview and present patients to attendings.


This process is similar to what happened when Joe started out on the ski slopes.  He was urged to stick to the easiest slopes (the “green” runs).  He was matched with a teacher/mentor (one of my sons) and together they practiced for hours learning to master the basics of how to stand on the skis, and how to shift weight and turn while going down a hill.  Within a day, it was clear that Joe was an eager learner with much potential, and he wanted to advance his skills so that he could ski in a parallel formation, and he knew he needed help learning how to slow down.  Teaching him became more complicated and my wife stepped in to oversee the process.


I think that this next phase for Joe is similar to what happens when early teachers have more questions.  They often begin to read articles about teaching and usually sign up to attend one of our faculty development sessions that occur multiple times a year.  None of us are naturally gifted teachers that know all the answers and tricks to effective teaching, and taking a course helps one to begin to understand ways to cope with various teaching challenges that will most definitely arrive if one teaches enough.


On our third day in Steamboat, we went on a dog sled excursion in order to give everyone including Joe a break from skiing.  We thought some time and rest might be helpful, and it gave him time to reflect upon what he was experiencing and to ask more questions.  In DPC, we want providers to have a break from their teaching assignments to also have time to reflect, analyze the teaching, and re-energize in order to do more teaching later on.


On our fourth day of skiing, it was quite clear that Joe was able to safely navigate the more moderate “blue” runs designed for intermediate skiers…  He needed to practice and that is what he did for many hours, and somehow he managed to handle all of the well-meaning feedback that he received from me and other family members.  He also became comfortable with stumbling and even falling once in a while- this never was overly disconcerting and he would always brush himself off and get back up on the skies. 


We see a comparable transformation with our new teachers as well over time.  They become more experienced, they try different things, and they basically become unafraid to fall or try something that might not work out.  This resilience is invaluable.  I still reflect upon some of my teaching experiences early on- not all of them were successful- but what I did do was reflect upon the time I was teaching and was always trying to make changes and adjustments to improve my teaching skill set.


Hopefully, the similarities here are comparable and of value.  I do believe that the overall experience of getting new providers to teach is comparable to learning how to ski down a mountain.  If you feel that your teaching skills could improve, please reach out to us so that we can assist in this process.   Our goal is to help you to become better teachers, so you can comfortably sail down the black diamond slopes after an appropriate amount of practice and coaching.