Top Of Their Class.

Distinguished Teaching Award

Erika Goldstein. Photo by Kathy Sauber.

Erika Goldstein

Erika Goldstein can't be just one person. She chairs and teaches two extensive and complex courses for first- and second-year medical students, which alone is perhaps the heaviest teaching load in the School of Medicine. She coordinates hundreds of volunteer private-practice physicians who mentor students. She conducts problem-based learning sessions, in which she guides students through patient cases; facilitates ethics discussion sessions; works with residents; and was instrumental in designing a new structure of teaching clinical skills, which she will chair.

Her students claim she attends every clinical skills session, even when she's not teaching, and is always, always available when they need her. "She has developed a remarkable and truly unsurpassed reputation as a gifted clinical educator and mentor, not just for a few students, but almost literally for the entire School of Medicine," according to Dr. Clarence Braddock, associate chair of the Department of Medicine.

The most well-known and beloved teacher in all of the School of Medicine.

If that weren't enough, she has a 20-year-old medical practice of her own at Harborview Medical Center, works in a clinic for Southeast Asian refugees, and has three young daughters.

Yet, somehow, she is "the most well-known and beloved teacher in all of the School of Medicine," according to Robert Steiner, a fellow professor. "She is deeply committed to the goal of teaching our students to become caring, empathetic, wise and compassionate physicians who are well schooled in the healing arts, as well as the pure science of medicine. ... She is an ebullient and motivating master teacher and a warm and compassionate person at the bedside."

Goldstein says she can explain how she does this. "I have an amazing husband, an organized mind, I've been doing it a long time—and some things slip through the cracks."

She sees herself as a sort of surrogate mother to all the students in the school. But it's too big of a job. "We're making some changes in the curriculum because the students deserve certain things, and I can't keep supplying them all by myself to 100+ first-year students in Seattle and 170 second-year students spread out over five states."

The change in curriculum involves dividing students up into five "colleges" within the school, each with six faculty members. Students learn clinical skills within these colleges, with explicit benchmarks for progress, as well as receive mentoring in an organized manner, rather than the more informal system now in place.

She is deeply committed to the goal of teaching our students to become caring, empathetic, wise and compassionate physicians.

The catch-all phrase "clinical skills" refers to doctor-patient communication, conducting physical exams, history taking, listening to patients, clinical reasoning, ethics, professionalism and a big black bag full of hands-on healing arts that make students into good doctors. These are the skills that Goldstein teaches.

"She is charged with the difficult task of tearing us away from our physiology/anatomy/biochemistry/etc., textbooks long enough to practice the laying on of hands with a patient, and to ponder why we are here, what it means to be a physician and how we can reach out to all of our patients," says Catherine Bakewell, one of her students.

"Every year we accept 180 truly remarkable human beings into this school who come in with incredibly high expectations for themselves and a very dedicated sense of what being a doctor is, Goldstein says. "We owe them the best possible education so they can achieve these goals."

And that's what society deserves, too, she adds. "Every person who walks through the door has a right to the best care, the care you would want for your mother. And the only way to get there is to teach students superlative clinical skills."

Goldstein says that everybody who teaches at a medical school thinks their course lies at the center of it. But hers really does. "Clinical skills is the fulcrum. All basic science is taught in the service of patient care. And all research is conducted in the service of patient care. We stand at the place where doctor and patient meet, and that involves all those things. Teaching physicians is really important to society, and it starts here."—Beth Luce

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