Who Makes a Superior Teacher? Our Alumni

Photos courtesy of Heidi Combs, M.D. ’00, Res. ’05, and
Andrew Luks, M.D.,
Res. ’03, Fel. ’07

Heidi Combs, M.D. ’00, Res. ’05, and Andrew Luks, M.D., Res. ’03, Fel. ’07, (pictured at right), agree that witnessing students’ “a-ha” moments is one of the biggest perks of being a teacher. Combs and Luks were both recognized as Teacher Superiors in Perpetuity at the UW School of Medicine graduation ceremony on June 1, 2013. This honor, held by only 21 other teachers in the School’s history, is bestowed upon those who have received the Distinguished Teaching Award from the graduating class four times. Below, Combs (HC), a UW assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and Luks (AL), a UW associate professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, answer a few questions about their experiences teaching and what it’s like to receive such an accolade.

How did learning at UW Medicine relate to your decision to teach?
HC: My teachers at UW Medicine were particularly skilled at interpersonal communication — actively listening to patients and responding with compassion. Their mentorship was invaluable to me, and now I get to model that same behavior for my students.

AL: In medical school, I found teaching was really hit or miss. Then when I came to UW Medicine as a resident, I noticed a really strong culture around education. I always knew I wanted to teach — even before I went into medicine — but it helps that the School, particularly my division, sets the tone that teaching is valuable.

What informs your approach to teaching?
HC: Psychiatry is kind of an underdog field. My goal is to inspire students — regardless of what they plan to specialize in — to see why psychiatry is relevant to them.

AL: Enthusiasm is really important. You can gain a lot of mileage by simply being passionate about your topic and taking the time to relay that to students.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?
HC: When we’re on rounds and students ask me why I did something. It forces me to be honest about my diagnosis, to understand the real reasons behind my decisions, and to keep abreast of the best treatment options for my patients.

AL: I really like the follow-up. When I bump into students that I taught in the classroom, who are now on their third- and fourth-year rotations, it’s great to hear how they’re doing and to talk with them about what they might like to specialize in.

What has most surprised you about teaching?
HC: How much fun it is! I love having didactic sessions with med students — in fact, those are some of my favorite days. And when I don’t have students or residents with me when I’m rounding, I miss them.

AL: Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, it’s time to evolve your approach. There’s always more room for growth and improvement than you think.

How does it feel to be recognized as a teacher superior in perpetuity?
HC: I’m the third woman and the only psychiatrist to ever receive this award. It’s nice to know that students value what I teach, and it’s validating for the patients I serve as well.

AL: It’s not like you do it for the awards, but I put a lot of time and effort into teaching, so it’s gratifying to know it’s appreciated. It’s a huge honor.

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