Special Section: Learning Curve


Professor finds innovative ways to teach students



patricia d’Cunha/for metro toronto


Family medicine professor Dr. Helen Batty looks for interesting ways to teach the next generation of doctors.

Dr. Helen Batty — director of graduate studies and the academic fellowship in family and community medicine, at the University of Toronto — has an innovative spirit. As a practicing physician, professor and teacher to medical academia and health professionals, Batty inspires the next generation of doctors.

Her captivating teaching style has not only garnered praise from students who cite her enthusiasm and clarity but also from the educational community. In May 2005, she received a national award from the Association of Faculties of Medicine of Canada (AFMC), and was nominated for a 3M Teaching Fellowship Award, given to professors for teaching excellence and educational leadership in 2003.

”I keep varying things and avoid staying on a particular approach for too long,” Batty says of her teaching style. ”I bring in materials they don’t normally expect.”

For one of her sessions, Batty came equipped with paint and paper, and encouraged her students to do some art.

”It’s to show them another side of their talents or other people’s talents,” she explains. And more so, ”having them (reflect on the work they do) from a slightly unfamiliar aspect, so they get to rethink it in a novel way.”

The main goal of the program and her courses is to strengthen family medicine physicians’ leadership and teaching skills. ”I teach faculty how to be good teachers and medical students/residents how to be good family doctors,” she states. ”(And) because I’m actually teaching them about teaching and learning, I’m trying to role model a whole bunch of different examples … so they can see which methods they like and which seem to work.”

This fresh approach is an inherent part of her personality. When she graduated with an MD from the University of Toronto in 1973, she was one of the first to specialize in family medicine, at a time when it was just getting started. In 1982, she was the first faculty member in the faculty of medicine to graduate with a master’s degree from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education.

”I was studying in the department of adult education, so I learned a lot of principles from (there) … and that did very much shape the way I teach,” she articulates. ”It’s one of the main underlying foundations for a lot of teaching we do in much of the health professional’s education.”

Batty is always willing to learn from her students as well.

”I think it’s two sides of the coin,” she says when asked if good teachers equal successful learners. ”That’s why the courses I teach are called ’teaching and learning’ … you have to be willing to be in either role.”

This is one of the reasons Batty is respected by her students, and why many of them follow in her footsteps.

”The greatest reward for me as a faculty developer is to see some of my students (from) five or 10 years ago set up programs of their own … they’re training a whole new generation,” she reflects.