Teaching Young Residents

Cory Smith, MD

September 25, 2019


As the calendar turns from June to July each year, there is a transition of medical students to residents, and junior residents to chiefs. This can be exciting but nerve-wracking for those of us moving into upper-level roles. We have more responsibility, not only for the care of patients, but for training more junior residents. Here are a few tips to help during this transition.

1Humility and Vulnerability

Even as we transition to roles of leaders and teachers, we all still have much to learn ourselves as residents and surgeons. As our attendings often remind us, it is a five-year program for a reason. While we have gained knowledge through experience that we can share with our juniors, the dynamic between junior and senior resident benefits from the mutual understanding that we are all still learning. Meeting on this common ground can establish a good starting point for the upper level-junior resident or medical student relationship.

2Patience, Patience, Patience

Whether you are teaching someone how to splint, close a wound or reduce a fracture for the first time, you could do it faster, more easily and more efficiently. However, we all remember the feeling of accomplishment that came when we were allowed to struggle and ultimately accomplish these tasks. In spite of busy schedules, we must provide juniors with the time and instruction needed to learn. Our job is to ensure that the task is done properly each time, and speed will come with repetition.

3The More You Know…

As teachers, we must continue to learn ourselves. The responsibility of educating our contemporaries should drive us to pursue knowledge even more vigorously to further both our education and theirs. Our knowledge base should constantly inspire the more junior residents and students to read and study. We all can remember the upper level resident who had the answer to every question we asked, and we should strive to be that role model. However, it is critical to admit when we don’t know the answer (See #1)

4Ask Good Questions

Anyone who has been involved in education understands how difficult this seemingly simple task can be at times. We must strive to engage learners with questions that force them to apply knowledge and think critically. This engages residents/students to keep them thinking through cases and clinical scenarios. It can often force us to think more critically as well. Avoid those “Guess what I am thinking” questions, and push for the thought process as much as the answer. Instead of asking, “What is this?” or “What am I worried about doing here?”, we should ask specific questions like, “If I take this dissection too posterior, what might the patient complain about when they wake up?” This forces a second and third order thought process which is much more beneficial and can lead to further discussion and teaching.

5Walk A Mile

Finally, take time to remember what is was like when you were in that junior resident or student’s shoes just a few years ago. We all remember the stress and sleepless nights, the boredom of holding a retractor for a surgery we cannot see or the embarrassment of following a resident or attending to the bathroom while walking around the hospital. Getting to assist or do a simple case as a junior resident or close a wound as a medical student may be the only bright spot in a dark day, week or month. While it is their responsibility to prepare and learn independently, we as leaders must actively engage residents and students to encourage their pursuit of orthopaedic knowledge.

New roles bring new responsibilities, and while teaching can be difficult, it is often very rewarding. Remember that educating is not always an inherent skill, and we all must strive to continue to improve as teachers and leaders. Focus on these five points above, and the transition can be enriching for the learner as well as the teacher!


DISCLOSURE: Dr. Smith reported nothing to disclose.

Read the AAOS Discussion Group Terms, Conditions and Disclaimers HERE


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