Preparing our future health care professionals

Teaching comes naturally to Dr. Tarek Abdelhalim, a General Internist at North York General Hospital (NYGH). The son of teachers, he constantly searches out new opportunities to impart knowledge and enjoys coaching students as they learn the ropes at our community academic hospital.

Dr. Tarek Abdelhalim
Dr. Tarek Abdelhalim enjoys teaching at North York General Hospital and interacting with students one-on-one

“Teaching students at North York General is very fulfilling as you feel that you're part of a great learning community here,” says Dr. Abdelhalim, who won the 2017 Professional Association of Residents of Ontario (PARO) Excellence in Clinical Teaching Award for his contributions. “I'm able to really get a sense of what drives and what inspires the students I teach because I interact with them one-on-one, something that isn't always possible at other hospitals. It makes a real difference.”

Dr. Abdelhalim is one of the many teachers at North York General who educate close to 2,000 students in every area of the hospital: from social work to emergency medicine, midwifery to pharmacy. To train future health care professionals, NYGH partners with 36 different academic institutions, the largest institution being the University of Toronto (U of T). 

“The hospital is essentially part of the university, it's another place where students learn,” says Dr. Rick Penciner, Director of Medical Education and an Emergency physician. "Over 320 of our physicians have faculty appointments with U of T and a third of them are at the level of Assistant Professor or higher.”

While teaching has been integral to North York General since its inception in 1968, the hospital experienced a profound shift towards academia when the 2012–2015 Strategic Plan highlighted building on our academic foundation as a new direction. Since then, academics (including research and innovation) has been brought to the forefront of hospital activities.

“Not only do we teach, but staff and physicians produce scholarly work on teaching and learning,” Dr. Penciner says. “We're not only trying to provide exceptional care, we're trying to find the best way to teach students how to deliver exceptional care.”

Clear benefit to patients

As members of health care teams, students often interact with patients and families during their health care journey at North York General. 

a man and a woman wearing scrubs smile
To train future health care professionals, NYGH partners with 36 different academic institutions, the largest being U of T.

“Students always have a supervisor with whom they consult,” explains Voula Christofilos, Manager of the Centre for Education, North York General's physical and virtual hub of education. “The degree of supervision, however, varies depending on experience. For instance, a medical student completing their third year of training would obviously require more supervision, than someone who is completing their fellowship in a specialty program.”

Whatever the level of training, student interaction provides extra attention in a patient's care. “Students and their supervisors discuss treatment and diagnosis at length to ensure they are on the same page,” says Voula. “Those discussions can lead to further insights.”

Dr. Penciner notes another clear advantage of having students from the millennial generation: digital prowess. “Not only are these students incredibly bright, but they're also tech-savvy,” he says. “They teach us about the new trends and new ways of interacting in the digital age.”

Still, for teachers such as Dr. Abdelhalim, there's room for perfecting old-fashioned communication. “I recently had a student who was particularly gifted in most areas except one: handwritten notes in patient files,” he says. “I sat him down and explained that it would be helpful to write more clearly. The next day, he texted me a photo of the neatest notes I've ever seen. I had to laugh at a text of handwritten notes.”

At the end of the day, Dr. Abdelhalim says that teaching involves so much more than the clinical. “It is mentoring and coaching about everything from handwriting to soft skills such as listening,” he says. “I feel very honoured to play a role in teaching the next generation of health care professionals. It's part of what makes my job at North York General so special.”

This article first appeared in the June 2017 issue of The Pulse.

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