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Signature Course Spotlight: The Doctor/Patient Relationship

I have taught my UGS 303 course eight times over a five-year period, to between 100 and 150 students each time it has been offered. The size of the course is a noteworthy challenge. As noted by Hensley & Oakley (1998), “The solution is to develop innovative methods of classroom instruction that can reduce, if not eliminate, many of the difficulties inherent in the mass class.” These and other creative pedagogical techniques can be applied successfully in a broad range of courses regardless of class topic and size.

As a medical practitioner with almost 60 years of clinical experience, I believe that every aspect of health care education, even the most theoretical, must involve the creation of a personal connection between teacher and student. Teaching this must be relevant, engaging, and experiential; that experience must involve the creation of trust between a teacher and students, and self-examination by all in the classroom as they recognize that emerging trust. The learning experience is like a parallel process to the health-care provider to patient relationship.

How can we create that atmosphere, that bond between student and teacher in a large lecture class? The techniques that I have worked on include the following: establishing eye contact with students throughout the class, using a warm and concerned tone of voice, modelling vulnerability during difficult dialogues, student reviews of each other’s essays during class, the use of sensitive literature such as poetry, and a film about a doctor’s regrets in his work with dying patients. By experimenting with these methods of instruction, I work to create the most intimate possible connection with my 100-150 students at a time.

Steve Sonnenberg teaching his Signature Course

Reference: Hensley, TR & Oakley, M. (1998). The challenge of the large lecture class: Making it more like a small seminar. Political Science & Politics, 31(1): 47-51.