How a lifelong love of teaching advances clinical practice in radiology.
By Kirsten Bauer on October 8, 2019
Christopher Fung, ’10 MD, always knew that he would become a teacher, but he didn’t know it would be in hospitals.
“When people go through high school they think ‘I want to be an astronaut’ or ‘I want to be a scientist,’ but I wanted to be a high school math teacher,” he said. “I talked to my math teacher, and he thought I would get bored really fast, so he asked if I had considered medicine.”
Years later, Fung is now an assistant clinical professor and radiologist at the University of Alberta Hospital, Royal Alexandra Hospital, Grey Nuns Hospital and occasionally the Sturgeon Community Hospital, where he incorporates his enthusiasm for teaching into his medical practice with medical students, residents, fellows and peers on a daily basis.
“I couldn’t imagine doing a job where I didn’t interact with learners,” Fung said.
Read more about what drives him to teach in the Q&A below.
What do you think is unique about working and teaching in radiology?
Radiology isn’t the typical clinical pathway that people think of when they think of clinical medicine. We don’t have patients in front of us as they are usually referred by another physician, so most interactions are usually teaching interactions. Learners will come to you and ask for your help, and that’s an opportunity to teach. Sometimes we’ll go through case information together, or if we’re working on something interesting we’ll call them over and say, “Come and take a look at this” and it’s a teaching moment.
If you could summarize clinical teaching in a few words, what would you say?
That’s medicine. You can’t have medicine without clinical teaching. It’s a core component, it’s part of being a physician, it’s part of your professional responsibility, and it’s actually the most fun part of my job.
How would you describe your teaching style?
I try to tailor my teaching style to the trainee. I’m more of a hands-on teacher for junior trainees, but I back off and let them take the reins relatively quickly. I think as teachers we mirror the way that we like to learn ourselves. I was a fairly independent learner and I like to instill that in my learners, so that means stepping back and ‘pushing them out of the nest’ and see how they do. You observe them and try to correct them when needed, or talk them through a decision. I ask questions like “Why do you think that?” to help guide them to their own conclusions instead of just telling them.
Physicians have to be independent—you’re not going to have people there with you at every step of your professional practice, so independence is critical when you’re talking about skills that have to be developed. I’m not suggesting a completely hands-off approach, but I like to get them to whatever level they feel comfortable with, and then push them beyond it.
What do you think makes someone a good clinical teacher?
A good clinical teacher doesn’t teach for themselves. They teach for the learner, and they try to make that learner better in one area, because you can’t do too much at once. You have to be dedicated to the person who you are educating, and you have to try to recognize a gap that they have—especially early on, there may be many gaps, but you have to pick one or two—and focus on that.
And it’s a contract. At the outset of an interaction, I like to ask them what they would like to learn about a specific case or situation, and at the end I ask them, “Did you learn something today?” to see if we achieved their learning goals. I do that with every medical student I teach. Because at the end of the day, that’s my goal, and if they haven’t learned anything then I haven’t succeeded, and I have to change my approach.
Would you encourage others to become clinical teachers?
I don’t think you should have to encourage them. It’s part of the job of being a physician, but I would strongly encourage anyone who maybe isn’t doing a lot of clinical teaching in their practice, because it makes you a better physician. It pushes you to be better, and it gives you a chance to interact with your future colleagues. All of these trainees will be out in the workforce, and they will refer patients to you or maybe even work with you in your specialty, so building up professional relationships is mutually beneficial.
What has been the most rewarding part of being a clinical teacher?
The most rewarding part for me is twofold. It’s watching my trainees become who they can be and find what they love. And it’s finding what it is that they really enjoy and seeing that spark roll into a flame.
Honestly, teaching has been my life. I love what I do, I love my job, and I really enjoy every single case that I work on, and to see learners develop that same passion is the best thing at the end of the day. It’s what I look forward to every day.
Why is clinical teaching in radiology important for medicine overall?
Medicine as a whole needs good, well-trained radiologists because radiology is everywhere. Nowadays, it’s hard to discharge a patient or figure out what’s going on without radiology. People are desperately seeking answers about what’s wrong, and radiology provides a lot of those answers. If you don’t have a good understanding of what radiology can offer or how it can help solve that problem, then you’re doing your patients a disservice. The only way a clinician is going to know what they can or cannot do, or how they can answer that question, is through radiology teaching. I think the more physicians have a solid understanding of radiology, the better patients can be treated in the long run.
I think that the experience of being a clinical teacher, or any teacher, is one of the most rewarding ones you can have. You foster relationships with your future colleagues, you have to stay on top of all of the information that is out there, and it’s what makes the job fun.