Summary: The Medical Teacher issue I just found in my mailbox included a cri de coeur of a clinical lecturer. The letter to the editor headed Do medical educationalists like to teach? To his surprise and disappointment, his own conclusion was no, they don’t. Description: The Medical Teacher issue I just found in my mailbox included a cri de coeur of a clinical lecturer from Barts and the London medical school. The letter to the editor headed Do medical educationalists like to teach? To his surprise and disappointment, his own conclusion was no, they don’t. Educationalists were not interested to accept her invitation to teach in a Data Interpretation workshop for junior doctors, while clinicians were. He concludes that individuals with a particular education focus, paradoxically “turn the other way around” when asked to teach. While I’m not sure his general conclusion holds (teaching data interpretation may require specific knowledge and skills more present in clinicians if it pertains to clinical data) I wonder what lessons we can learn. Medical education now clearly has ‘medical educationalists’ – educational specialists with training and knowledge about medicine, or doctors with additional training in education such as a Master’s degree -- a new brand of professionals. Should they be good at teaching to be able to study it?

Philosopher George Bernard Shaw once concluded “he who can does; he who cannot teaches”. What if we extend this? To “he who cannot teach, conducts teacher training, or study it and write about it”? Boy... that happens to be some of my daily work! Luckily, I teach too and that is usually well evaluated. But I do believe that the training of teachers, the study of education and the writing about it ideally requires some inside experience. I too don’t like educationalists delivering suboptimal presentations at education conferences. It is possible that one doesn’t practice well what one preaches others should do well, and be an expert in preaching it?

Teaching about teaching (is this meta-teaching?) or studying teaching & learning may require, other, specific knowledge and skills that may have value in themselves. People usually get good at things they often do with passion. If educationalists frequently observe teaching, analyze what happens, and provide regular advice, they can become good at it, but would that necessarily mean they should be good at teaching? There may be superb music teachers who would not do well on stage, and superb journal critics of music performance who can’t even play any instrument themselves. There may be superb educational scholars who are not superb teachers.

Maybe it is Shaw’s suggested causality that confuses. It reads like because he cannot, he teaches. I must say, perhaps as an answer to the writer to the Editor of Medical Teacher, that I have seen instances in which clinicians with suboptimal clinical performance were asked to teach rather that to care for patients. That would typically be a case of He who cannot, teaches. But I have never seen medical educators who were asked to train teachers or study teaching because of their own inferior teaching. So I’m not so sure that the educationalists’ reluctance to teach Data Interpretation should be surprising or disappointing.