Philosophy of Teaching
While Eden is my primary professional commitment, alongside offering functional and integrative healthcare to my clients, I also teach at the graduate level within two different programs and provide legal consults, largely in malpractice cases. Both of these opportunities challenge me and help me grow as a clinician, but also encourage me as I remain committed to my larger vision.
Mary Breckinridge was the first American trained nurse-midwife and the founder of the Frontier Nursing University from which I earned both my graduate and doctorate degrees in nursing. As a requirement for each program, learners were assigned to read her autobiography, Wide Neighborhoods. However, the assignment wasn’t as simple as just reading the novel; we were tasked with the responsibility of methodically examining each of Mary’s achievements, as well as her failures, to better understand her methods and to learn from her mistakes. Mary’s passion grew deeper in each of us with every turning page, along with our appreciation for her determination, her high standards, and her fortitude.
Identifying as a Mary Breckinridge successor is a matter of great pride for Frontier alumni, so as I ponder my teaching philosophy, it comes as no surprise that I turn to Mary for inspiration. “Our aim has always been to see ourselves surpassed,” (Breckinridge, 1952).
Mary was the granddaughter of a US Vice President and the daughter of a congressman and Russian ambassador. She was a child of privilege and a young woman with powerful social and political connections. She had servants and fancy clothes, but to a much greater degree, she had an unrelenting heart for the Appalachian mountains and the people who lived among them. These people were easily the poorest people in our country during her time, with the highest mortality rates in the United States. Against great protest from her family and high society peers, Mary devoted herself to finding a solution for these Kentucky families. Not only did she envision a new profession, the nurse-midwife, but she raised $6 million dollars for implementation of her program, maintained detailed statistics, and demonstrated a lower maternal mortality rate than the national average, revitalizing women’s health across the nation. Mary was a brilliant scholar who had extraordinary empathy and was uncompromising in her quest to always do the right thing. It is her footprint that shapes my philosophy today.
These three points - brilliant scholar, extraordinary empathy, and always doing the right thing - encompass my teaching philosophy although a multitude of components help support them. For example, it is imperative to me that my students fully appreciate their role as a nurse before leaving my classroom, and are absolutely clear that this role does not step on the rights of those they serve. As a public health measure, for example, all newborns are provided antibiotic eye ointment to prevent possible blindness from gonorrhea exposure. This seemingly simple intervention has potential for great benefit to the child, but to do so without regard to first educating the parents about this intervention and obtaining their consent to treat invites opportunity for distrust. It undermines a relationship of mutual decision-making between provider and consumer.
Fostering a high level of critical thinking is a high priority as well. As an educator, my goal is to encourage a sincere love for learning, rather than simply funnel facts into their minds. I want students to hunger for truth so they can be excellent educators and advocates for their clients. Science evolves. What we have always done will not always be best practice. Problem-solving should be encouraged so innovation is the norm, change is not feared, and weaknesses are not overlooked.
Healthcare consumers are increasingly informed, as well, which can be intimidating to nurses. An insecure or ill-prepared provider may even be tempted to demand compliance rather than consider the unique perspective their client presents. Equipping students with resources for furthering their knowledge, challenging them as students to embrace an informed consent discussion, and causing them to ask their own questions and to think outside the box will foster an approach that inspires trust in their clients and peers.
Empathy may need to be cultivated for many students, but in others, it may need to be tamed. In effort to see ourselves surpassed, we must be clear that self-empathy is an equally important endeavor. Inspiring students in discovering a humble confidence is imperative for not just safe practice, but also longevity.
As the educator, creating a safe place for students to consider their professional boundaries, or to explore ethical dilemmas, and to share ideas will support their ability to grow. Students should have the assurance to speak up and offer solutions for unsafe conditions, be bold in their advocacy efforts, and have a no tolerance policy for hostile work environments.
They should value their contribution to the care of their clients and identify as a collaborative member of the healthcare team. As an educator, asking the right questions and sharing stories that allows the student to apply the lesson can often inspire them to identify and explore what lies within each of them. My hope is that if students grow a love of learning, this will continue throughout their entire career. Gallop polls continue to identify nurses as the most trusted, honest, and ethical professionals, above our military, our elementary school teachers, our police officers, and even our clergy (Gallup, 2017) - an increasingly challenging feat.
Breckinridge, M. (1952). Wide Neighborhoods. Lexington, Ky: University Press of Kentucky.
Brenan, M. (2017). Nurses keep healthy lead as most honest, ethical profession. Economy. Retrieved from https://news.gallup.com/poll/224639/nurses-keep-healthy-lead-honest-ethical-profession.aspx? g_source=CATEGORY_SOCIAL_POLICY_ISSUES&g_medium=topic&g_campaign=tiles