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Dal rheumatologist wins national teaching award

Posted by Melanie Jollymore on January 25, 2019 in News
Dr. Trudy Taylor (right) with Dr. Mehveen Merchant, second-year rheumatology resident. (Jollymore Photos).
Dr. Trudy Taylor (right) with Dr. Mehveen Merchant, second-year rheumatology resident. (Jollymore Photos).

The Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC) has named Dr. Trudy Taylor its Clinical Teacher of the Year for 2019.  Dr. Taylor is an associate professor in the Division of Rheumatology in the Department of Medicine at Dalhousie Medical School who is known across the country for her skill and passion for teaching.

The AFMC Clinical Teacher Award recognizes excellence in clinical teaching by a faculty member in a Canadian medical school. It highlights the importance of excellent clinical teaching by recognizing one individual a year who demonstrates “vision, innovation and leadership in clinical teaching in their faculty of medicine.” Dr. Taylor will receive this year’s award at the Canadian Conference on Medical Education (CCME) in Niagara Falls in April.

Dr. Taylor is program director of Dalhousie Medical School’s rheumatology sub-specialty training program and chairs the Department of Medicine’s continuing professional development committee. She’s known for innovation, leadership and collaboration when it comes to running a relatively small residency program.

“It’s challenging to develop and deliver a complex curriculum to one or two residents at a time,” notes Dr. Taylor. “So I have reached out to the program directors of other small sub-specialty programs to create joint programs that bring the residents together to learn about fundamental topics common across disciplines.”

At Dalhousie, she collaborated with Dr. Tim Lee (immunology, now retired) and Dr. David Conrad (hematopathology) to develop an immunology course for residents in sub-specialties of internal medicine, such as rheumatology, cardiology, respirology, nephrology and gastroenterology.

For the past five years, Dr. Taylor has led a course that brings all of Canada’s rheumatology residents together to learn about a key issue in the field in advance of the Canadian Rheumatology Association’s annual meeting.

As chair of continuing professional development for the Department of Medicine, Dr. Taylor develops and runs an annual continuing professional development conference, “Medicine Matters,” as well as a half-day faculty development session on how to be an effective teacher.

“I was really lucky. In my first year of rheumatology residency, the program director at the time, Dr. Evelyn Sutton, was launching a medical education elective,” Dr. Taylor recalls. “This was my first exposure to learning how to teach, develop course materials and exams, conduct structured clinical exams… it sparked what has become an enduring passion for me.”

Her commitment to and enthusiasm for teaching has not gone unnoticed at Dalhousie Medical School. Dr. Taylor won the medical school’s Award of Excellence in Education in June 2018 and the Residents’ Choice Award in 2017. She has won the Department of Medicine’s Excellence in Medical Education Award twice, in 2009 and 2017.

“Dr. Taylor is one of the most inspirational teachers I have had the pleasure of learning from,” says Dr. Mehveen Merchant, a resident, originally from Texas, who works with Dr. Taylor in her second year of rheumatology training. “She pushes me to be my best. As a teacher, she is always patient and non-judgmental and has a great depth of knowledge. She is one of my go-to people if I want to discuss a difficult clinical question or learn about a particular area.”  

Even though she is well known for her work with groups both large and small, Dr. Taylor finds her greatest satisfaction in one-on-one teaching. “It is really gratifying to meet a student in their first year of medical school and then watch them as they develop their confidence and skills over the course of their MD and residency training,” she says. “Some of the people I’ve taught are my colleagues now… it’s a pleasure to see them come into their own.”

One of the greatest lessons she has learned that she is careful to pass on to everyone she teaches is the importance of reflective practice. “You have to able assess yourself after every patient interaction, to ask yourself, with absolute honesty, if you asked all the right questions and took all of the necessary steps,” says Dr. Taylor. “You need to be aware of the areas where you need to improve.”