Dr. J's Way
A Master Teacher Demonstrates the Value of Enthusiasm
In April, Ralph Józefowicz, M.D. (R '85, FLW '86), professor of neurology and of medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center, received the 2010 A.B. Baker Award for Lifetime Achievement in Neurologic Education from the American Academy of Neurology. Medical students routinely rate the course on "Mind, Brain and Behavior" that Józefowicz designed as their favorite basic science class. Rochester medical students also typically rank neurology highly and they choose to go into neurology at a rate three or four times the national average. He has won many awards for his teaching of medical students and residents. In 2003, he was made an honorary professor at Jagiellonian University in Poland in recognition of his efforts in developing an exchange program between the school in Krakow and the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.
- RM: What is the "Józefowicz method of teaching"? What are the ingredients?
- The "Józefowicz Plan" includes three components: organization, planned redundancy and enthusiasm for teaching. Organization is key to running any course or clerkship. Students will learn much more effectively if the material is organized and they don't waste time trying to figure out their roles and responsibilities.
- Planned redundancy is an important concept when teaching complex material. Students need to hear things at least twice, if not three times, in order to effectively learn the material. Enthusiasm is perhaps the most important quality for an effective teacher. Learning improves if the students sense the instructor's excitement about the subject matter.
- RM: How did you develop your method?
- I've developed my method by trial and error. I've observed many teachers and borrowed heavily from ones whom I felt were the outstanding teachers. I also review all student feedback carefully and try never to make the same mistake twice.
- RM: When you work with residents, you are training them as doctors and as teachers. What is at the heart of what you teach them?
- In addition to teaching the residents medical facts, I try to teach them the proper approach to the patient, which is to find out what's causing their patient's symptoms. This requires very careful listening, organizing the information that is gathered, generating an appropriate differential diagnosis, ordering laboratory tests judiciously, and communicating effectively with the patient and their family. I emphasize to the residents their important role as a teacher for their patients. Their job is to teach their patients about their diseases, so that their patients can better manage their symptoms.
- RM: Why did you develop the program with Jagiellonian University?
- I have a Polish background and was very interested in participating in an international medicine program with Poland. In 1992, I was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to teach neurology to medical students at Jagiellonian University Medical College for a semester. This fellowship then led to my being invited to run the neurology clerkship in the English language track at Jagiellonian University on a regular basis. Since 2000, I have had Rochester neurology residents and medical students join me on my annual pilgrimage to Krakow to teach neurology to a class of 35 Polish medical students, and presently take 10 Rochester medical students and five Rochester neurology residents with me to Krakow each year to help teach the Polish students.
- As part of our exchange program, we also host about 15 Polish medical students in Rochester each year for three months of clinical rotations at the Medical Center. In addition, we hold biennial medical exchange conferences for faculty on an alternating basis in Krakow and Rochester. In April, six medical deans from Jagiellonian University visited Rochester for a medical education conference.
- RM: What attracted you to neurology? What did you learn from your best teacher?
- Neurology is a field where exact diagnoses can still be made on the basis of history gathering and the physical examination. In an era of ever-expanding technology, there is an elegance in being able to figure out what is wrong with your patient without resorting to tests. The human nervous system is incredibly detailed and controls the essence of what makes us human beings. It is thus a distinct privilege to be able to study, teach and practice neurology. My best teacher once told me "You can't always be right, but you can always be kind." I try my best to follow his example.
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