Clinical teaching award winner: Andrew Sides

Internal medicine physician, professor seeks personal connection with students

When Dr. Andrew Sides was a student at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, he always valued the instruction he received from the students in classes ahead of him. And he enjoyed sharing his knowledge, too.

“You continuously are teaching the people who are coming along in the years behind you, whether you want to or not. It was something I found I enjoyed doing. And I had so much appreciation for people ahead of me who were teaching me. I wanted to pass that on, not just to students who were a year or two behind, but to continue doing that for the rest of my career,” Sides says.

Sides, an internal medicine physician, is an associate professor of internal medicine at the School of Medicine and is the clerkship director for the 12-week internal medicine rotation, a requirement for third-year med students. His teaching is marked by the personal connections he forms with his students — and that is part of the reason he was recently selected to receive the university’s clinical practice teaching award.

“The first part of my teaching relationship with any student is to form a personal connection. Though it is a small gesture, I always strive to learn and use the preferred names for all 20-25 students on their first day of the (internal medicine) rotation. I feel that can set the tone that I am genuinely interested in each of them individually. I also aspire to consider everything from the student perspective; one part of that is knowing that as a student, I would have been less likely to seek help from a teacher with whom I did not feel a personal connection.”

Sides said he believes in order to have a good learning environment, students must feel comfortable to ask questions and not be afraid to give an incorrect answer. He says the stereotype of medical school professors as stern taskmasters intent on disparaging students is no longer accepted practice in med school.

“There’s more of a recognition that’s not the best way for a lot of students to learn. Just because we may have been taught that way, it doesn’t mean that’s the way we need to keep teaching. We should have high expectations for students because it’s important; they’ve got people’s lives at stake. But we can still be supportive of students in trying to reach those high expectations. One thing that is so much fun about clinical teaching is that we’re not just teaching information, we’re trying to teach the approach and teach how to think about things.  So students not only get that content right, but they use the approaches we teach them,” he says.

The first part of my teaching relationship with any student is to form a personal connection.

And he loves sharing the study of internal medicine with students.

“With internal medicine, it’s a lot of complicated patients, a lot of trying to manage patients who may have several chronic diseases. A lot of times there’s no absolute right answer. We’re having to choose the best we can with some level of uncertainty,” Sides says. “It makes it complicated, but makes it that much more important to have the conversations with patients and decide things together with them. It was the ability to make the diagnosis and make the best treatment plan in the gray areas of medicine that drew me to internal medicine in particular.”

Sides earned his bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in Spanish from UofSC in 2002, followed by his medical degree from the UofSC School of Medicine in 2006. He said one of his favorite roles as a teacher is working alongside students in patient care, which he does in both the clinic and hospital settings.

“Though I simultaneously teach about the medical conditions we encounter, I feel the most important aspect for our medical students at this early stage of training is to model the behavior we want from them in my interactions with patients, families and the multidisciplinary medical team. I try to be patient-centered, courteous and respectful to all,” he says. “I especially enjoy working with patients who are perceived as ‘difficult’ or angry, because they frequently have a strong basis for their concerns, and once we explore those issues, we are often able to form a strong therapeutic relationship. This is difficult to simulate in the pre-clinical years of medical education, and is an area where I feel I can effectively model an approach to solve a common challenge.“

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