At an event next month, Amal Shibli-Rahhal, MD, will receive a 2023 Collegiate Teaching Award. Sponsored by the Office of Faculty Affairs and Development, this award acknowledges faculty who “demonstrate unusually significant and meritorious achievement” as instructors in an academic year.
Shibli-Rahhal is a Clinical Professor in the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism as well as the Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Curriculum in the Carver College of Medicine. She also recently completed seven years as Program Director of the Endocrinology Fellowship. These and many other facts, from “curve-bending” quantitative student evaluations to her regular receipt of Teacher of the Year awards from the M2 medical students each year, appear throughout the nomination packet assembled by her colleague Daniel Runde, MD, MME, Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine.
But, as Runde points out in his cover letter, these facts about Shibli-Rahhal do not tell the most important part of why she is such an exceptional educator. As he assembled student evaluations, Runde said, “Over and over, students take the time to remark that she not only delivered the best lecture(s) in a particular course, but was in fact the single best lecturer they have encountered.” This struck him as “noteworthy praise” given the number of high caliber of educators within the college.
One piece of evidence of Shibli-Rahhal’s unique effectiveness that popped up a few times both in the glowing student letters and in another from Infectious Disease’s Associate Professor Jason Barker, MD, was this phrase “muddiest points.” At the end of her lectures, Shibli-Rahhal asks students to identify the parts they understood least or still found confusing. Not only does she use these moments for ensuring student comprehension, but she incorporates that feedback before the next time she delivers the lecture. That example of being a lifelong learner herself inspires her students. M3 Emily Belding wrote, “After many of us graduate, I believe she will continue to be a fixture of educational excellence in all our medical careers.”
More than just tweaking her lectures, Shibli-Rahhal sees her role as an educator as one that must remain as connected to “the learner’s context,” just as a physician must incorporate the patient’s social and cultural context into a treatment plan. “My duty as an educator,” she wrote, “is to explicitly teach ‘anti-otherism.’” She encourages the incorporation of Humanities education for medical students as “a companion rather than a supplement to medical sciences. The Humanities, she says, provides students their best opportunity to develop skills like “close observation, reflection, and discourse.”
Those skills make for more compassionate physicians, Shibli-Rahhal writes, but goes on to argue that given the pressures of an increasingly “impersonal and challenging” health care system, educators have an even greater responsibility to connect with their learners on an individual level. “I do have the responsibility (and ability) to enhance the learning environment, help learners create community, and provide them with support, encouragement, and structure.”
It is no wonder that students and colleagues alike would make such an effort to recognize her with a Collegiate Teaching Award. As Barker put it simply in his letter, “I am surprised she has not already received it.”