A day in the life of a clinician educator: Dr. Eduard Verhagen

By Jamiu Busari (@jobusar)

Eduard Verhagen
Director of the pediatric residency program, University Medical Center Groningen
Groningen, The Netherlands

Eduard Verhagen, MD, JD, PhD, is director of the pediatric residency program at the University Medical Center Groningen in The Netherlands, as well as the coordinator for pediatric residency programs in the region. Additionally, he acts as the chairman of the Beatrix Children’s Hospital’s central residency training committee where he is charged with ensuring that the quality of the training programs within the different disciplines meets national standards.

During his professional career as a pediatrician, Dr. Verhagen has found himself mainly working in teaching hospitals, supervising residents and medical students. These activities take place in two very different settings: The Netherlands (Groningen) and the Caribbean (Curacao[1]). His work as a clinician educator is focused on general Pediatrics and neonatal intensive care, while his activities as an educator have gradually shifted from a supportive role to one of leadership and greater responsibilities. His clinical research mainly focuses on identifying the parallels between Pediatrics, ethics and law and, in particular, palliative care for terminally ill children. His activities also involve networking and collaborating with peers on the aforementioned topics.

Juggling diverse responsibilities

Dr. Verhagen’s work time is split evenly between patient care, teaching activities, administrative responsibilities and finally, research and other academic-related tasks.  When asked how he feels about juggling these different responsibilities, he responds, “The administrative responsibilities are the least preferred of all my responsibilities and if I had a choice I would love to reduce these tasks.”

Dr. Verhagen says that the intensity of his clinical responsibilities is sporadic and unpredictable; however, despite this, he would not want to miss any bit of it as it is a part of his job that he enjoys the most, particularly when combined with his teaching tasks. While he rarely has time that he can reserve solely for clinical work, as most of his activities are tied to teaching, this is not the case for his call duty (night shifts). He shares, “A task I perform on my own and that puts me on the spot as a clinician, is having to pick up a sick neonate from a remote hospital setting and transport it with the ambulance back to my department. These are the moments I have to demonstrate my clinical competencies.”

Dr. Verhagen describes himself as someone who needs diversity in his job and this is why he personally sought the combination of responsibilities that form his current position. He is conscious of the inherent disadvantages, particularly the challenge of focusing on a specific area or field in his discipline. For example, he says to be an expert in a particular area you have to posses the knowledge to answer questions and the skills to synthesize a lot of information; however, the trend in academic teaching settings is to discriminate academic teaching from academic research.  Dr. Verhagen disagrees with this line of thinking and practices what he preaches in his work by combining both fields in his tasks as a clinician educator. The consequence is that he regularly has to justify his decision to combine both of these profiles, which he finds tiresome. It also makes finding time to fix appointments a very cumbersome task for him and for others.  Meanwhile, the advantage is that he is able to learn new things in one domain and apply them in other areas to solve problems. This pattern has been a common thread in all the responsibilities he has fulfilled and has contributed significantly to his professional development. Dr. Verhagen states, “I demonstrate that it is possible to be active in different domains and to be happy and effective at it too.”

Work-life balance

The combination of all these roles has created disequilibrium in the balance between Dr. Verhagen’s private and professional life. For example, a lot of activities happen outside working hours and thereby put a lot of pressure on his family time. Consequently, he constantly has to weigh the importance of every appointment before booking it. Dr. Verhagen’s wife is also a pediatrician and they are therefore constantly doing a lot of planning and scheduling to make sure things work, between caring for their children and planning call duties. He says he is always engaged in a sort of “plan-do-check-act” cycle.

Complicating things further — his work activities are not evenly spread over a week or month. There are degrees of intensity of his various tasks and this makes it difficult to effectively manage all of them. He is often faced with situations where a particular activity demands more of his time than another. Hence, the need has arisen for him to share responsibilities and to delegate some activities to others. Nevertheless, he believes that involving others is a positive thing and says “What I like the most in my role as a clinician educator is combining teaching with my clinical tasks and being able to engage junior doctors in active learning exercises.”

Tips

  1.  Enjoy observing residents. Learn to “keep your mouth shut” until the resident is ready for feedback
  2.  My goals and ambitions as a clinician educator now are different from my goals 10 years ago. If this happens to you too, don’t panic it might be a good sign!
  3.  Keep on learning (I enjoy that!)

Lessons learned

  • Even when we thought our curriculum for residents was the best ever, I learned that improvements and changes are always wanted and necessary. My guess is that this is partly caused by the always changing ‘characteristics’ of the pool of residents and students. They create their own dynamics, with particular needs and input! It’s OK to always change and improve.
  • Because of what is learned above: always involve students and residents in discussions about changes in the curriculum together with young clinician educators; It’s for them and with them. Young clinician educators are responsible and as-hard working as you yourself: give them space and give them trust

Tell us about a day in your life as a clinician educator. Contact us at icenet@royalcollege.ca

[1] Curaçao is an island in the southern Caribbean Sea, off the Venezuelan coast. The Country of Curaçao, which includes the main island plus the small, uninhabited island of Klein Curaçao, is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherland