November 4, 2010

Inspiring Students - My Path Towards Nuclear Pharmacy

by Amber Mae Todd, Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy
If someone had told me in my first year of school that I was going to choose nuclear pharmacy for my career, I would not have believed them. I would have never guessed that I would spend the next two summers learning how to elute technetium from a generator at 2 am, or discussing the properties of medronate while watching the sunrise. What could have happened that changed my perspective so much. I went from having no clue about where I wanted to go, to falling in love with any drug that sets off a Geiger counter. There had to be one very inspiring teacher in my life for this to transpire.

I have often wondered what qualities an inspiring teacher possesses. What does it take to inspire a student? One study by van der Zee and de Jung entitled “Teachers as a Source of Inspiration in Catholic Schools”, defines inspiration in the following way:
inspiration may be regarded as mental causation of perlocutionary effects that, through the outstanding qualities of the source of inspiration, may motivate people, on the basis of suitable aptitudes, to have certain thoughts and desires and to perform certain actions.1
In other words, inspiring teachers, using the special qualities that they possess, can change the actions and perceptions of their student(s). In my opinion, this is the definition of what it means to teach. A teacher should always leave a lasting impression on their students' perceptions. I believe the student should walk away from the experience changed in some positive and profound way. It was certainly the case for me; I was never the same after crossing paths with my teacher.
What qualities make a teacher inspiring? Certainly enthusiasm, patience, empathy, and the ability to explain a subject proficiently are important qualities.1  van der Zee and Jung describe the teacher as a leader. They contend that a teacher must inspire their students in the same way a leader of an organization would inspire their followers.  Some of the leadership qualities that they point out include: vision, charisma, promoting intellectual stimulation (challenging a student), and being a role model. I do not believe a teacher must have all these attributes to inspire. However, having a few of these characteristics are probably necessary. In my case, my teacher was enthusiastic, patient, and proficient at explaining details. He challenged me and he was an excellent role model. His enthusiasm helped me to see the significance and life-changing nature of every radiopharmaceutical we made.
There are other factors that can affect the inspiration process. In Barbara Davis’ chapter entitled “Motivating Students” in the book Tools for Teaching, she points out several classroom strategies that can help motivate learning and inspire students.2 These include: making students active participants in learning, hold high but realistic expectations of your students, help students set goals for themselves, and explaining to students what they need to do to succeed.  These methods can help boost student confidence and help students to begin working and thinking independently.
My teacher inspired me. His proficiency at explaining concepts was amazing; this included his patience in repeating points where I was confused. A teacher who can explain things clearly is easier to follow. This will provide a greater understanding that leads to confidence and the ability to complete tasks successfully. Challenging a student can help increase that student’s confidence, as well as teach them to “work outside the box.” Challenges can show them that they can apply their understanding to new and stressful situations.  Lastly, my teacher was a role model.  The purpose of a role model is “to trigger a thought, an assurance, a vision, a character and a way of life, which can serve as the impetus for a students' personal and professional growth.”3 My teacher did that.  He showed me night after night what a great nuclear pharmacist could look like. It’s an image I took to heart.
It is no small thing to change a student’s perceptions.  Often, an inspired student will remember the lessons the teacher bestowed on them for the rest of his/her life. It takes a unique set of attributes to inspire someone.  I was lucky to find a teacher who had so many of them. He inspired me to take the path to nuclear pharmacy. When we become teachers, we must try to inspire our students … and change the path they take in their lives.
1. van der Zee T, de Jong A. Teachers as a source of inspiration in catholic schools. Journal of Empirical Theology 2009 06;22(1):7-29. 
2. Gross Davis Barbara. Tools for Teaching. Hoboken: Joey-Bass, An Imprint of Wiley. c1999. Motivating Students.
3. Meetu. Teachers as Role Models. [Internet] BrightHub. 2010 Apr 5. [cited 2010 Oct 29] Available from:

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