The day I decided to venture into the Woods

I still remember that day. I was in my fourth year of my dental training at the University of Toronto; Chomping at the bit to be done, but subliminally cognizant that I am not entirely done. I recall before getting into dental school thinking that it would be the terminus of my educational career. The summit. I had endured 5+2+2 years of undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate education and research. I think you either love or hate grad school. For me, it was seminal in the development of my self-concept, interests and philosophy. I was certain professional training would embody the independence, versatility and excitement that grad school had to offer. To my dismay, it felt, almost entirely, very “undergraduate”. Sure we had some independent papers, group projects and dabbled in CBL and PBL. Yet, the resonant image I will have of it is that of a dimly-lit, temperature-irregular, large classroom with overwhelmed students feverishly (and I must add obnoxiously) typing away words delivered monotonously, while I tried to restrain my narcoleptic, nodding off head. Often, I would get more excited about a certain teacher than the material they were teaching. Often, I would get dangerously distracted by why I learned a certain material better than another when I should have been focused on an imminent exam. Or spend a lot of time complaining to friends and family, about how a certain course should have been taught this way, or tested another way; how when a certain teacher claimed he was testing our “understanding” of pharmacology, I insisted he was only testing our “recall”. I spent a lot of time thinking about how most students in my and other cohorts were studying for the “test” and not for understanding. My grades suffered because I did not adopt a similar strategy (though rest assured I did not fail any course.. ever). But it was unsettling to me that I would review past exams before I even learned the material well, and often ended up with barely enough time to review those past exams altogether. I was counting on teachers to be inventive with their questions. I HATED multiple choice questions. I always thought “I wish I can write a supplementary explanation for half-marks!”. Seldom were they well designed and appropriately tested understanding. Yet most of my colleagues hated short answer format which always baffled me.

I resolved it was inevitable. I succumbed to those subliminal forces pushing me towards more education. I wanted to teach. But really, I wanted to teach people HOW to teach. More importantly, I wanted to understand the processes of learning. I wanted to understand different pedagogical strategies. I was curious about curriculum design and the (su)objectivity of assessments. That day, I saw an obscure flyer promoting a talk by Dr Nikki Woods. She were to discuss a study about how basic science integration might impact learning in dental radiology. It sounded oddly familiar. I immediately realized it was a study I was a part of in my 2nd year radiology class. I remember walking in to the scrutinizing eyes of grad students and faculty. I was the only undergraduate student attending the presentation. I was instantly enamored with the subject matter. When I reflect back on that event, I cannot help but marvel at the serendipity of it all. I kept in touch with Nikki, and learnt about the Wilson Center and CACE (Center for Ambulatory Care Education). I started auditing sessions during which the discourse was so intriguingly foreign to me. Where I come from – I am Syrian-born – we have a saying that translates “Like a deaf person in the parade”. I often felt that way at those sessions. But slowly I learned the language. And the pieces of the puzzle started taking shape. What seemed like an illogical decision to do a hospital dental residency soon provided the raw material for my MedEd fellowship at CACE. And the uncertainty around whether specialty was something I wanted to pursue or not, was relieved by other conversations that led me to the HPE graduate degree I am currently wrapping up. As for what the future holds? I will follow this Trail and see where it takes me.

(Photo Credit: Montego Bay, Jamaica with ola_foto_)


I am a general dentist and hospitalist with an expansive interest in education research. I come from a basic science, and immunology research background, and am currently pursuing a master in community health with a health practice education focus.

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