What’s a Nice Nurse like You doing in a Medical School?

Hearing the Call:  A Feature on How Physicians and Medical Educators Came to Understand their Vocation

By Anne Gill

Back in the 70’s, I called a surgeon to tell him his patient was bleeding from a cholecystectomy incision.  “When did you go to medical school?” he screamed.  “Until I say differently, that is serosanguineous fluid!”  Stung by this rebuke, I meekly added ABD’s to stanch the flow of “serosangunious fluid” and awaited the patient’s return to the OR…

I don’t remember a call to nursing.  Like most of the women in my family, my mom was a nurse and I followed in her footsteps.  Nursing came easily to me. On any given day I might debride a wound, lead a code, or place a newborn in its mamma’s arms. Which is why when I heard a call toward teaching, I was caught unaware. A friend asked me to teach her IV class while she was on leave.  That first week was agony. I bored myself droning on and on about electrolytes and fluid balance and vowed never again to subject my students to such tediousness.  I turned sodium potassium transport into a Texas two-step, and the IV pump into an alien invader.  Inking fake tattoos around the Port-a-cath and sharing humorous stories of famous flubups triggered gales of laughter that rang through the halls.  Colleagues would poke their heads in my room and ask, “Just what ARE you teaching?”   And I began to understand what Parker Palmer meant when he said, “I am a teacher at heart, and there are moments in the classroom when I can hardly hold the joy.” (Palmer 2007)

Soon thereafter, I took a job as a research nurse at a medical school.  To my astonishment, I found myself teaching residents in clinic.  The first time an intern asked me how to measure an FOC, I was whomperjawed.  “But you’re…you’re a doctor.  Why are you asking a nurse?”  Maybe it was because I was not threatening or maybe because the attending was sarcastic and demeaning.  Fear is a terrible teacher.  Over the next 22 years, I earned a doctorate in public health, taught hundreds of medical students, twice served as course director, and won multiple teaching awards.  As a medical educator, curious colleagues ask me how it happened that I teach medical students.   With the persistence of memory I reply, “Kindness, empathy, respect for the learner…and a little laughter along the way.”

Anne Gill, DrPH, MS, RN
, is the Assistant Dean of Interprofessional Education, Associate Professor of Pediatrics & Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine.  She was a bedside nurse for 20 years but has worked the last 17 years in medical education.  She has won multiple teaching awards and is a member of the Academy of Distinguished Educators.

Palmer, Parker J. 2007 The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life.10th Anniversary Edition 2nd Edition. Jossey-Bass.

2 thoughts on “What’s a Nice Nurse like You doing in a Medical School?

  1. Thank you so much for posting your story. I’m glad to hear things worked out and in the end you became the teacher and someone that should be respected and be listened to. It’s a shame people thought that your opinion wasn’t worth it due to things like medical school or other status stuff. I wish you the continued best!


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