Leadership in Teaching: Mama’s Rules

I always try to read this article at least once a year, usually around the beginning of the year as the new intern class arrives.  In 2008, Dr. Arthur Kellerman gave the commencement speech at the Emory’s School of Medicine.  He took this opportunity to tell a wonderful story about a young resident who is in the midst of a heated exchange about a patient with an admitting service.  What happens after the attending steps in might surprise you.

If you haven’t read this article, take a minute or two to read Dr. Kellerman’s parting words for Emory’s Class of 2008. In this transcript he notes how each and every day we are, “challenged to balance pressures of modern health care, the expectations of your peers, and your own pride against the best interests of your patients.”  But he encourages them to never lose sight of why they chose a career in medicine.

Teaching medicine isn’t just about creating a new curriculum, lecturing, and bedside instruction. Teaching is also about leadership and being the type of doctor that our students will aspire to be like 5, 10, or even 20 years from now. Remember to remind your students why they chose the path that they did, especially during the toughest shifts.

As we begin the next academic year, share this article with your new interns  – or just read it for yourself.  The next time you find yourself dealing with a difficult consultant, or even a difficult patient, remember “Mama’s Rules.”  Our job only begins with teaching the medical knowledge, but doesn’t end until we have inspired those around us to become great physicians.

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
— William Arthur Ward


  • Kellermann AL. Mama’s rules. Ann Emerg Med. 2009 May;53(5):688-9. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2008.12.014. PubMed PMID: 19380044. [Fulltext]

    Contact me on Twitter @JohnGreenwoodMD
    Email: johncgreenwood@gmail.com 

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