Invigorating and Hopeful: Lessons from a Medical Student’s First Mentor  

Dale Stafford, M.D.
Dale Stafford, M.D.

Written by Dale Stafford, M.D.’81

Dale Stafford, M.D., is a family medicine physician in Berlin, Vt. An alum of the UVM Larner College of Medicine himself, he has been a preceptor for the Doctoring in Vermont (DIV) course for roughly 30 years. Completed during the Foundations level of the Vermont Integrated Curriculum, DIV introduces students to the art of patient care. Students complete eight sessions with a primary care physician, practicing interviewing and exam skills. Dr. Stafford has mentored dozens of Larner College of Medicine students over the years. Here, he reflects on the value of the course for students and physicians:

In reflecting on the Doctoring in Vermont course, in a few words, I find it refreshing, invigorating and hopeful.  It is such a pleasure spending time with the students who are so eager and excited to see, talk to and touch “real patients” after all the “book” learning they’re doing and have done.  It never ceases to remind me what an honor it is to care for patients and how much there is to learn and how long it takes to learn it, starting (in many cases) from no clinical experience.

It feels like a tremendous responsibility to be the students’ first clinical mentor, to impart to them the joy and the reward of caring for patients.  At this stage in their training, it is not so much about teaching content as it is about teaching patient interaction. Doctoring in Vermont reminds students why they are working so hard at their studies.

Often, seeing patients all day is actually a somewhat lonely, solo endeavor–just the patient and me in the room.  Having a medical student with me allows me to share the patients’ stories and their conditions. I enjoy introducing students to both the art and science of medicine.

I say that I find working with medical students hopeful because I am seeing young men and women who are so intelligent, dedicated and motivated that I feel we will be well-served by these future doctors.  It has been a real pleasure to have had DIV students graduate, complete residencies and in some cases, end up working with me as colleagues or consultants.  That is, of course, a function of having been doing this for so long.

This course is worthwhile because it gives students some real clinical experience during their year and a half of didactic studies, special time away from the classroom, books and computers.  It is also worthwhile for us mentors. It give us a glimpse of the future, allowing us see medicine through the eyes of a student who may be experiencing it for the first time.

Thank you for this opportunity to teach in the DIV course and keep up the good work managing the program.

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