I’m passionate about turning talented students into skilled doctors
Torben Bæk Hansen from Health has been awarded the Aarhus University Anniversary Foundation Prize of Honour for Pedagogics 2019. He receives the award for his continued excellent and innovative teaching and for the educational initiatives that he brings to the medical degree programme. The award winner is both surprised and overwhelmed.
When talking to Torben Bæk Hansen from the Department of Clinical Medicine and the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery at the Regional Hospital West Jutland in Holstebro, a few minutes is all you need to feel the passion for his subject and his students shine through.
"What really interests me is how we turn talented medical students into skilled medical doctors. Our students are good at learning. At the medicine programme, we get the most talented students from the upper secondary schools, which already gives us the best possible starting point. But we have to teach them to transform their academic insight into action and to communicate their knowledge to other professionals and the patients," says Torben Bæk Hansen.
He has spent more than two decades working with teaching development and pedagogical methods and he has himself undertaken scientific work within medical pedagogy. At the same time, he has become an expert within his own field of orthopaedic surgery – in both clinical and research fields.
A little cold sweat is okay
"My approach to teaching really comes from daily clinical experience and is grounded in clinical issues. For example: How do I deal with the tasks at hand when I’m dependent on other professionals, such as nurses and porters? And what if the patients ask questions about things like rehabilitation and prognosis and I can’t find the answers in our textbooks? These are the questions I ask myself and my students. And it’s really exciting working with this because we’re dealing with communication, empathy and care – which is to say areas which aren’t part of medicine’s traditional professional competences,” he explains.
In his opinion, a good lecturer is someone who has a clear intention with his or her teaching in a context that the students can see themselves in.
“You should begin by making sure there’s a balancing of expectations, a kind of mental contract, with the students. So that we’re in agreement that this is exciting and important. And of course, it’s also a requirement that you as a lecturer are accessible. If you can do that and also succeed in challenging your students in a safe learning environment, then things aren’t going to be too bad,” says Torben Bæk Hansen and continues:
“If the students go home after spending a day with their own patient tasks without getting into a cold sweat at some point, then you haven’t challenged them enough that day.”
Authentic learning spaces serve as a kind of playpen
Challenging the students is important. This is one reason why Torben Bæk Hansen has taken the initiative and established Denmark’s first pre-graduate student section at the hospital in Holstebro where he works on a daily basis. In the section, the medical students – together with students from the physiotherapy and nursing programmes – are given responsibility for eight beds with ‘real’ patients.
"We supervise the students in this special set-up where we can allow ourselves to challenge them with realistic tasks in an environment that’s safe. Here they learn about the organisation that they’re going to work in, while their own professional identity is strengthened as they learn to interact with other colleagues from other professions. And that’s crucial for whether they become skilled medical doctors or not,” says Torben Bæk Hansen.
The award is also a seal of approval
The enthusiasm in Torben Bæk Hansen’s voice is clear when he talks about his students and lecturing. When we return to the matter of receiving the award, however, he becomes more contemplative.
"I'm really overwhelmed. Professionally, it represents great recognition for the work that I do almost automatically – and which I’ve done for many years. I find it a little hard to see what makes it so exceptional. There’s always something you can improve,” he says.
But there is no doubt that he is proud.
“I think of the award as recognition of the fact that we’re going in the right direction with our development of the medical degree programme. The fact that Aarhus University gives my work this seal of approval is certainly a feather in my cap," concludes award winner Torben Bæk Hansen. He intends to use the DKK 100,000, which comes with the award to visit some partner universities and look for more inspiration.
Professor, MD Torben Bæk Hansen
Aarhus University, Department of Clinical Medicine and
Regional Hospital West Jutland – Holstebro, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery
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