Discovering purpose and potential

08 June 2018 | Story Ambre Nicolson. Photo Robyn Walker. Read time 7 min.
“I strive to create an active, collaborative learning environment filled with curiosity and enquiry in which all participants are both teachers and learners.”
“I strive to create an active, collaborative learning environment filled with curiosity and enquiry in which all participants are both teachers and learners.”

Professor Pradeep Navsaria believes that the hallmark of good teaching is an active, collaborative and curiosity-driven learning environment in which all participants are both teachers and learners. He shares some insights into his work and the approach to teaching that led to him winning a 2017 Distinguished Teacher Award (DTA).

What first drew you to medicine?

The world needs more doctors. Medicine is a globally recognised field with diverse career opportunities. But above all, there is no greater joy than the one you feel when you manage to help a very sick patient.

What led to your decision to teach and how long have you been teaching for?

Although I have been teaching for 22 years now, I am what you would call an accidental or incidental teacher. As a trauma surgeon working at Groote Schuur Hospital, 75% of my time is spent with patients. Groote Schuur is a tertiary academic teaching hospital affiliated with the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Cape Town (UCT). We are thus exposed and compelled to teach and supervise both undergraduate and postgraduate students.

What is the hardest part of your job?

Being able to balance the excessive clinical workload in a resource-limited environment with teaching and research commitments.

What does the DTA award mean to you?

Teaching is an important part of my life. It is an honour to be recognised by one’s students and colleagues for something that is indeed a labour of love. 

 

“Professor Navsaria . . . has been responsible for ensuring a whole new generation of general surgeons are adequately equipped with the necessary surgical skills.”

What makes for innovative teaching in your opinion?

Each student enters the classroom, operating room or ward with a unique and valuable set of life experiences. Teaching requires openness to change; therefore, I continually examine my teaching techniques and experiment with ways to become a more effective teacher. I strive to create an active, collaborative learning environment filled with curiosity and enquiry in which all participants are both teachers and learners and where students can discover knowledge rather than be passive recipients.

It is essential for me to be available to my students and colleagues, to help them reach their goals. I have an open-door policy and strive to be approachable and welcoming to my entire university community. Although I have no formal education in teaching methods, my approach to teaching is very simple. I like to motivate my students to reach heights they did not think they could achieve. I attempt to do this by keeping the students focused and attentive through my engaging style; always using real-world anecdotes and observations. I attempt to integrate a light-hearted style with consistent, direct and purposeful exposure to patients. Students are engaged in the critical analysis and reasoning that accompanies the diagnosis and management of ill patients.

 

“The open-door approach has made me feel comfortable to turn to him for advice, both in [the] clinical set-up as well as in my personal life.”

If there’s one thing you would like your students to take away from your teaching, what would that be?

As a surgeon, scientist, academic, researcher, role model and professor, I have the opportunity to impact the lives of students, and I take that role seriously. For me, teaching is about inspiring others to discover their purpose and potential. Medicine is about compassion, service, altruism and trustworthiness, values that have always and will continue to guide the profession. It is with these values that I teach and I try to equip and instil in all my students.

What qualities and skills do you think will define your students’ success in the future?

Altruism in medicine is practising unselfishly. The future generation of doctors/surgeons need to see this in practice, and hopefully will view me and a handful of my dedicated colleagues as excellent role models, and emulate us. I teach my students that patients’ needs are paramount and must be considered before the individual’s needs.

It means that when providing care to a patient, a physician should always put that patient first. To serve [your] patients, you must be competent in the medical areas in which you practice.

Competence requires the application of current knowledge with requisite skill and judgment needed to meet the patient’s medical needs. In short, I like this anonymous quote: “We do not teach maths, history, science or grammar – we teach students.”

UCT Surgical Society (undergraduate medical students):

“His teaching style is one of encouragement and praise, which quite noticeably enables students to perform better. Professor Navsaria is a very versatile teacher. From formal lectures to large groups of students, to smaller, hands-on skill tutorials, he is able to adapt to the situation and bring out the best in the students’ knowledge.”

Postgraduate general surgical trainee:

“Professor Navsaria was the supervisor for the completion of my MMed dissertation, which I began work on while I was a trainee in general surgery, rotating through the Groote Schuur Hospital trauma unit. I always recommend Prof Navsaria as a supervisor to anyone who asks. He allowed me the space to explore my own ideas, but provided the guidance I needed to put them into practice. He always responded promptly and constructively to questions and problems, encouraged me to present my findings at congresses and ultimately helped me hand in a completed dissertation that earned a distinction.”

International postgraduate general surgical trainee:

“From the first day of me joining the department till today, Professor Navsaria continues to be a friend, a mentor and a father figure, guiding and shaping my surgical training each and every day in the ward, in the theatre and the lecture room. His commitment to teaching and surgery, passion, and impeccable clinical acumen have been an inspiration to me, and I am proud and extremely fortunate to have someone of his stature shaping my future. Apart from teaching and mentoring in surgery, Professor Navsaria in the only senior staff member [who] has made an effort to get to know me on a personal level, always asking after my family and my well-being as a foreigner in South Africa. The open-door approach has made me feel comfortable to turn to him for advice, both in [the] clinical set-up as well as in my personal life, on numerous occasions.”

Colleague and friend:

“Professor Navsaria takes great pride in teaching trauma surgery in the operating room and has been responsible for ensuring a whole new generation of general surgeons are adequately equipped with the necessary surgical skills.”

 

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