In August 2019, Dr Stewart received a prestigious Teaching Excellence Award for her work tutoring medical students across the entire six-year undergraduate programme. The first in a series of GP tutor interviews, Dr Stewart talks about the enjoyment and energy which comes with teaching.
How long have you been an undergraduate GP tutor and which courses do you teach on?
I began teaching on the communications skills course when I started as a GP partner in 1999. It has been a constant source of fun since then, but that does seem a long time ago.
For several years, I have been the tutor for the fifth year students, when they join the practice for six weeks. I also support two fourth year students each year when they come for a week, as part of the Patient & Doctor 2 course. Helping someone to reach their potential and to navigate the hurdles along the way is such a rewarding experience.
More recently, I have been a tutor on the Patient & Doctor 1 course for the first and second year students at Trinity College. This has required a different approach and a different skill set and I have loved the challenge. Trinity College has been incredibly supportive of the course.
Over the years I have been asked to be an educational supervisor for some of my previous students when they reach final year and it has been lovely to see them finish. This year, a scheme to give all students an educational supervisor between their fourth and final years has started. I have been involved as an educational supervisor for my first group of fourth year students. This has added another dimension.
What attracts you to teaching medical students?
In a nutshell I really enjoy the energy that comes with teaching.
I initially liked the thought of being involved in teaching as a way of contributing to medical education. Education is a bit like the cycle of life, you take, then you give, then you can give no more but can be rewarded by seeing the seeds you have helped to grow.
I enjoy people and narrative medicine and I have always been drawn to the consultation as a powerful tool when used correctly.
I feel incredibly privileged to be part of the process of training and supporting these young people.
I don’t actively encourage students to become GPs but I do hope that they leave the practice seeing what a fantastic job general practice can be and that they appreciate they will never have a dull day at work as a doctor. I hope that they leave being able to value the work that GPs do.
Are there challenges?
Challenge is a funny word, as sometimes the enjoyment is the challenge. Encouraging a reluctant student to participate, managing an angry student or listening to criticism without becoming defensive is all challenging but incredibly rewarding.
Increasingly, the challenge is to make sure that the goals we encourage students to aspire to are realistic in the current NHS. We need to support them and to prepare them for real life. I want to encourage them to have hope that they can retain enjoyment as well as compassion and empathy, even in the busy work environments that they will find themselves in.
Does teaching students influence your clinical work?
As a doctor there is a desire to do things well, but being a tutor has also encouraged me to reflect on how things could have been done better as part of my day-to-day process.
As the years move on, I feel increasingly that I learn so much from the students. The flow is most definitely two ways. They keep me in touch and I never have a session where I fail to take away something new. Teaching has undoubtedly allowed me to develop as a doctor.
You are also involved in postgraduate education. How do the two roles compare?
I think this is very subjective. We have ST3s and FY2s in the practice and I take part in their training but it isn’t a passion. Early on I felt that teaching was felt to be a precursor to training. Some years ago I did the PGDipLATHE (Postgraduate Diploma in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education) and it cemented my thought that I am more suited to teaching students than training postgraduates.
What would you say to GPs considering taking up a teaching role?
Just go for it. Remember you cannot squeeze it in. To get the most from it you need to give it time and you need to keep up-to-date and current in your practice. It is an important role, as important as any other role you have at work.
You will have fun and the rewards are enormous. It will give you a chance to think differently and to reflect more. You will meet wonderful students and doctors and others along the way and you will become part of a supportive and friendly community of practice.