May Mrochuk, ’97 MD, has observed changes in the medical profession throughout her 18-year career—from technological advances to shifting cultural norms and changing needs of the populations she serves, the associate clinical professor and emergency physician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital enjoys the fast pace and ever-evolving challenges of being a first-responder.
One thing that remains constant, she says, is the importance of mentorship in clinical settings.
“The experience of talking to a patient, learning how to interact with compassion, or how to manage your time in a busy emergency room can’t be replaced,” Mrochuk said. “A learner can pick up so much just from watching you during a single shift, and that on-the-job learning doesn’t happen in classrooms.”
A popular mentor among students and residents, Mrochuk has maintained her involvement in teaching and education at each stage of her career, earning her a number of teaching awards including the Ivan Steiner Award for Teaching Excellence, Emergency Medicine Teacher of the Year, the Professional Association of Resident Physicians of Alberta (PARA) Resident Wellbeing Award, and the Spirit of STARS Award.
“The most rewarding thing for me as a preceptor is being acknowledged by my learners,” Mrochuk said. “The times when I received teaching awards meant so much to me because it means that the learners themselves are recognizing that I’ve helped them along through their journey.”
Read more about Mrochuk’s clinical teaching philosophy in the Q & A below.
What do you like about Emergency Medicine?
Emergency Medicine is extremely diverse, which is why I love it. What happens today didn’t happen yesterday, and is not going to happen again tomorrow, so it’s always challenging and no two days are alike.
I also have the benefit of working with a great team, not just my physician colleagues, but everyone from the nurses, social workers, clerks, porters, environmental staff—we are all such a huge part of Emergency Medicine and I learn from everyone. We see and do things that sometimes only we can understand, and that part is so rewarding. We build very close friendships because of the pace and the diversity of patients that we see in a day.
The other reason why I love what I do is the patients. Emergency medicine is “everyone medicine”. Our doors are open 24/7, even on holidays. We’re always here, and we take care of newborns, 90-year -olds, patients in all different situations. Whether it’s a crisis, a shooting or a heart attack, we serve a vulnerable population at this site and we try to provide support and connect people with services they need and provide support in any way we can. Sometimes patients become like family. It makes Emergency Medicine very rewarding.
What is unique about being a clinical teacher in Emergency Medicine?
I think what’s most important is being a supportive mentor, being an educator that is well-rounded, being a strong clinician, being a hard worker, and showing them that you love what you do, even though it’s hard sometimes. The emergency room can be unpredictable and we face serious situations every day, and showing learners how you manage those feelings, and continue to show up every day because you feel passionate about what you do is so important.
How would you describe your teaching style?
A good mentor has usually been mentored by someone else in the past, so my teaching philosophy is really about paying it forward so that our knowledge can be passed forward to the next generation. Thinking back on my experience as a medical student, I can still identify who those mentors were who helped shape and define my career, and some of the lessons that I took from working with them. I think one of the most valuable things I can do in the long term is to pass along the tradition of mentorship that I learned from my own mentors.
I’m very fortunate to be exposed to learners at many different levels, whether they’re students doing a shadow shift, rotating residents from all of the departments in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, or emergency medicine residents, they are a really diverse group with different learning needs. I never come with a script because everyone is so different, so I try to reflect that in my teaching. I focus on finding out what their individual learning needs are, how they learn and process information, which can then inform a tailored approach that will help them take ownership over the process, instead of taking a prescriptive approach.
Even when I was a student, the mentors who really influenced me were people who helped me become more confident. They were kind, they were human beings, they were compassionate and they were supportive. I think learning should always be done in a supportive, positive environment. Learners will look to me to model clinical knowledge, whether it’s how to approach a patient with chest pain or how to put in a central line. I want them to know that they can come to me because I will support them through their learning journey, so they can be the best physician that they can be.
What motivates you to teach?
My learners drive me to continue teaching. The value that a learner brings to your clinical practice working alongside you during your shift is immeasurable. The impact that you can have on that learner throughout their career can be imparted in a single shift—from clinical skills to having compassion, to being a human being and a good colleague. That’s the greatest value you get from being a teacher.
I think it’s an important part of being a physician. Ever since I went through medical school, I made a promise to myself that I would pass along what I had learned from those who mentored me, as a way of ensuring that the medical field would continue to evolve, and to create a positive learning environment. And I hope that my students will take what they learn and pay it forward in the same way throughout their careers in the future.
What makes a good clinical teacher?
A good clinical teacher should have a well-rounded skill set. I think it’s important to be supportive. Passing along clinical knowledge requires an understanding of how people learn. Taking the time to observe how they process information, or how they process a patient interaction can give you insight as a teacher as to how you can influence the learning process, so the next time the see a similar clinical presentation, they’ll be able to work through it on their own.
Would you encourage others to become clinical teachers?
Absolutely. We have so much to give to one another, whether we are sharing between colleagues and peers or between students and mentors. The time that you spend with learners is so rewarding. Knowing that you can affect even one thing that they carry throughout their career and that you can afford that type of change in a learner is something that you can’t replace, it’s wonderful.