My first encounter with teaching was during my undergraduate years when I enrolled in my college's peer tutoring program as a chemistry mentor. I have to confess that my motivation had nothing to do with a love for education; rather, I was simply looking for opportunities to improve my resume for when I applied to veterinary school. Fortunately for me, things turned out different than I had planned. As you can tell, I never made it to vet school and I also discovered that I thoroughly enjoy helping others in their learning process.

During my Ph.D., I actively sought out teaching opportunities and ended up contributing to a graduate level course on biochemical techniques, mentoring research students, and leading a section on protein backbone assignment in an advanced NMR workshop. These activities helped me to better formulate what I enjoy most about teaching, namely the challenge of designing an interesting and effective lecture, meeting new people of all ages, and seeing students grow in knowledge. The start of my postdoctoral fellowship, however, has forced me to slow down with teaching. I haven't stopped altogether but certainly most of my efforts have gone toward assimilating the vast amount of new information that I've been exposed to so far. After finishing my fellowship in June and beginning my career a newly hatched clinical chemist, however, I’d like to become more involved in teaching again.

In talking with various individuals, I come to realize that an overwhelming number of educational opportunities exist for clinical chemists. As a result, it’s best to first figure out who you want to teach, at what level you want to teach, and how you prefer to teach. My past experiences taught me that I very much enjoy interacting with younger, more inexperienced students; I also prefer real-time, face-to-face interaction. If you are like me then a good option is to get involved in an undergraduate Medical Laboratory Science program. There are many things you can do: create and deliver lectures, lead small group discussions, supervise students in their senior research projects, and mentor those completing their practical rotations in your laboratory. Depending on your enthusiasm, you can also contribute on a more global scale by joining the American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science. Education is a key focus of this group and their annual Clinical Laboratory Educators’ Conference provides a great platform for exchanging ideas and experiences. If your city does not have an undergraduate Medical Laboratory Science program, consider approaching your local medical school for opportunities. You may be able to lead small group-based pathophysiology discussion sessions or develop a short medical student clinical laboratory experience similar to the one at Emory University [1].

If your preference is for more mature students, a wide variety of opportunities are also available. If you end up working at a teaching hospital, chances are that you will mentor residents at some point in your career. If your institution has a clinical chemistry postdoctoral program, you will also receive some responsibility in training these individuals. Keep in mind that just because your institution doesn’t currently have a program does not mean it will never have one; the University of Chicago, for example, started its program a year-and-a-half ago and the University of Calgary is starting its program this summer. Depending on your level of experience, you may also be able to serve on the American Board of Clinical Chemistry, the Canadian Academy of Clinical Biochemistry, or the Commission on Accreditation in Clinical Chemistry. Each of these organizations provides unique opportunities to contribute to the education of clinical chemistry trainees; for example, you may write questions for future certification exams or carry out inspections of training programs across the country.

Regardless of your level of experience and the type of institution that you work for, certain teaching opportunities will always be available to you. Scientific meetings, for example, provide great opportunities to educate individuals of all ages through short courses, symposia, brown bag sessions, and poster presentations. If you are so inclined, you can always organize a mini-symposium on a topic of particular interest to your laboratory or to your region's providers. And let's not forget the wide variety of professional blogs, newsletters, magazines, and journals that are always looking for new contributors – Clinical Laboratory News, ASCP Case Reports, the ADVANCE series of magazines, the NACB Blog, and this CouncilChat are just some examples. If you have a talent for writing then these are certainly avenues to explore. Once you gain some expertise in a particular field, you may also be invited to contribute a book chapter or to write a complete book. You shouldn't wait for such invitations however; if you have an idea for a new book or for revising an already existing book then you should certainly explore the feasibility of bringing your vision to life. I want to finish this section by mentioning the important role that clinical chemists play in patient education. Most of us are aware of Lab Tests Online, a public resource on lab testing that arose from the clinical laboratory community. However, there are additional, complementary approaches to patient education that you can implement directly in your institution. Dr. Corinne Fantz (Emory University) recently described in an AACC webinar how she and her colleagues invite selected patients to visit the chemistry laboratory. During this visit, patients share their experiences with lab staff and also get to see some of the daily operations of the laboratory. A word of warning to those of you who are interested in this approach; in organizing such formal visits, it is wise to alert hospital administrators to your plans so as to avoid any unpleasant surprises. Speaking from first-hand experience, however, not all patient visits need to be so formal. I brought my parents into the lab a couple of times to them where I work and even these short, informal visits ended up being very insightful for them. Not only do they have a more clear understanding of what happens to their blood after it gets drawn, but they've also come to realize that they have an additional resource (i.e. me!) for their test-related questions.

I hope that this brief essay convinced you that there are a myriad of teaching opportunities available to clinical chemists. Always keep in mind though that, as with most things, the number and type of opportunities will strongly depend on the initiative you take and the people you meet.

 

 

[1] Molinaro RJ et al. "Teaching laboratory medicine to medical students. Implementation and evaluation." Arch. Pathol. Lab Med. (2012) 136, 1423-1429.