A Profound Commitment to Students

Posted in GUMC Stories

There is a reason why Aykut Üren, MD, has won a teaching award every year since 2008, the year after he began teaching gross anatomy to first-year medical students at the Georgetown School of Medicine. In fact, he has won so many Golden Apple awards, including the five times he was given the Gaza Illes Award, all for inspired teaching of anatomy, that he was awarded a membership in the Golden Orchard in 2012. Now Stephen Ray Mitchell, MD, dean for medical education has asked the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) to consider Üren for its distinguished teaching award. This national competition won’t be decided until later in the year — and if Üren is selected, few people at Georgetown will be surprised.

That’s because, by all accounts, Üren never turns his back on his students – either figuratively or literally. He is so interested in engaging with and motivating brand new medical students that he refuses to use the smartboard in his lecture hall because he would have to turn away from the class. 

Instead, he uses his iPad, loaded with a remote access app, to run slides in his lectures. That way he can make notes on the slides that are projected on the big screens from his laptop computer. The annotations not only help students follow the lecture, they also enable students to review the recorded lecture at home, Üren says.

That is just a hint of the technology he uses to keep his students interested in gross anatomy. Üren uses Twitter to help students review his lectures, and his feed usually has about 250 followers. Every day, he sends out three or four tweets with a link to a slide from his lecture or to, say, a clinical case from The New England Journal of Medicine. “They get a simple question with the answer in a link. Since the answer is always an image, it helps them recall the lecture and build a three-dimensional image of the body in their mind,” Üren says.

He also makes use of pop culture. Every lecture contains a “clip of the day” with a 30- to 60-second video from a popular movie or television show. The clip is followed by a related anatomy question pertaining to subjects such as a gunshot wound or trauma following a car accident. Students use theiriclickers to select their answer, launching a class discussion about possible answers. 

Teaching extends to nights and weekends

Most professors, proud of such innovative teaching, would call it a day. But Üren’s teaching is not restricted to the lecture hall and the anatomy laboratory. While his formal class time accounts for about 57 hours every academic year, the actual time Üren puts into teaching is 57 to the nth exponential — it is impossible to quantify, his students say.

Üren spends a significant time with first-year medical students on weekends and evenings to provide them with further clinical exposure. He holds weekend radiology sessions, meeting with students in small groups of 25 students to go over X-ray films and CT scans of extremities, chest and abdomen. For these sessions, he has created a faux “Jeopardy!” game, along with a game based on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” that also poses questions about anatomy — complete with sound and graphics.

He also meets with medical students on Friday evenings to teach them basic suturing techniques. Each session has only four students, so Üren hosts up to 30 of these two-hour sessions each year.

“Dr. Üren particularly excels outside of the classroom. It is in his extracurricular events — suture clinics and radiology sessions —that his dedication to raising passionate doctors was most evident,” says a medical student, who wanted to add his voice to Georgetown’s application to AAMC for the national teaching award.

This student, who wished to remain anonymous, attended one of Üren’s weekend radiology sessions. Amidst donuts, coffee and homemade Rice Krispy treats, “Dr. Üren would walk us through a number of interesting slides, both reinforcing what we learned in class, but also — and more importantly — giving us a picture of all that we didn’t know, and all that we could learn if we had the desire,” the student says. “It is the sort of stuff that keeps you motivated and disciplined on a Friday night when you want to do anything except study.”

“I have never come in contact with a teacher who wholeheartedly desires for the success of his students as much as Dr. Üren does. He selflessly spends countless hours outside of the classroom and laboratory to make learning enjoyable and interesting in a very technologically driven world,” wrote medical student Mark Connor in the AAMC application. “It is an absolute pleasure to learn from someone who is so invested in the students.”

“I have had many wonderful professors in undergraduate and medical school, but Dr. Üren is in his own category… one cannot doubt his profound commitment to his students,” student Marisa Pulcrano wrote to AAMC. In addition to all his extra teaching, Pulcrano mentioned an opportunity that, very likely, no other teacher has ever offered their students — soaring above Earth in a small airplane. Üren is a pilot, and when he goes flying, he often brings along a student or colleague, at no cost to them. The list of hopeful passengers is long.

“I think what I value most is that Dr. Üren visibly loves what he does and gets a lot personally out of spending time with us,” Pulcrano says. “Dr. Üren is a one of a kind teacher, mentor and role model.”

Paying it forward

Üren’s view is that he is both paying back and paying forward excellence in teaching.

“When I was in medical school in Turkey, I had wonderful professors that did the same for me. They spent extra time with us over lunch, in the evenings and on the weekends. They held journal clubs in their house and I still keep in touch with them,” he says. “I appreciated what they did for me so this is my way of paying back by doing the same for my students.

“When my students thank me for a class they enjoyed, I tell them they need to do the same for their students one day,” Üren adds.

He remembers what it means to be a first-year medical student. “The students are excited, eager to learn. The biggest challenge for them is that they are somewhat lost — they don’t know what to study, what is important, what is clinically relevant and what is not,” he says. Üren tries to orient his class to what the students will some day see in the clinic.

He believes that the role of a medical school instructor is to inspire his students because he knows that, ultimately, they are responsible for their future.   

“No matter what kind of teachers we give students, their success is in their own hands,” Üren says. “As teachers, we just need to spark that fire inside them that will make them better doctors.”

By Renee Twombly, GUMC Communications

(Published May 29, 2013)