What is a FACULTY COACH™ and Why Do I Need One?

A FACULTY COACH™ is usually a member of your medical school’s full-time basic science or clinical faculty or a volunteer faculty member. This person should be someone with whom you feel comfortable, someone you can talk to easily, someone you can trust to guide you, and someone to whom you will be accountable. Performance accountability is the main reason you need a FACULTY COACH™. When you work alone, it’s very easy to blow off your AIM YOUR BRAIN Study System assignments. Your FACULTY COACH™ can help you do something that’s difficult to do alone.

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Sometimes when you’re in the middle of a huge project — and yes, preparing for your Step 1 exam is a huge project — it’s helpful to have another person around to help you do the things that are tough to do alone. Your FACULTY COACH™ can help you define your weak areas and honestly introduce correction pieces when necessary. Your FACULTY COACH™ can provide the support and guidance you need, as well as review your scores, assign the number questions per day each week, and help you plan your overall strategy for tackling Step 1 using the AIM YOUR BRAIN Study System.

How Do I Find My Own FACULTY COACH™?

The way to start is by asking yourself: who has a reputation as someone who helps students? Remember, the people to consider are usually your basic science faculty, clinical faculty, and volunteer faculty. Depending on how your medical school’s curriculum is organized you may know quite a few clinical faculty or you may not. Many medical schools are introducing clinical experiences before the third year, or students may be introduced to clinical faculty via their longitudinal patient-case coursework, etc.

Another question you need to ask when searching for your prospective FACULTY COACH™: Whom do others regard as a “real “teacher”? Those faculty members who enjoy teaching and helping students usually have some if not all of the following characteristics: they possess excellent communication skills and knowledge of their area of expertise, are fair-minded, are perceived by others as student advocates, radiate warmth and trust, and are excited about learning new things in their daily life.

You’re probably wondering where to look for this amazing FACULTY COACH™. The answer is usually pretty easy, ask around. You can ask your advisor, ask your friends, ask your upper classmates, or ask your ombudsperson (if your school has one). Also, depending on how things are going, you might not have a choice, i.e., your school’s Student Progress Committee or Performance Committee or equivalent may refer you.

If, after all of the above, you still haven’t found a real faculty coach, then it’s time for a substitute. Ask someone you trust and whom you think can be neutral to step in as your “pseudo-faculty” coach. The candidates are usually friends or family members. The problem is that these relationships usually carry a lot of baggage — whether the baggage is good or bad is irrelevant.

With a friend or family member in the role of pseudo-faculty coach, you’re at risk of falling back into old relationship routines and roles that you gave up a long time ago: times when you got help with homework from Mom and Dad, imposed on friends who were busy with their own careers, or asked your spouse or significant other to become your taskmaster instead of your source of comfort and support. I’m not saying it can’t work. It can, but it’s just harder. My advice is: if you’ve asked a faculty member and he or she said no, keep looking.

A Little Homework Never Hurt Anyone

One thing we need to get straight right off the bat: you’re going to have homework—no ifs, ands, or buts! Homework is an integral part of active learning. Remember: in the AIM YOUR BRAIN Study System you need to work with targeted content. You’re using multiple-choice question content to lead you to mastery of multiple-choice exam concepts. You will be doing the following types of fun-filled homework: timed-question blocks, missed-question write-ups, F.A.C.T.O.I.D. notebook reviews. In addition, you may find yourself listening to audio CDs, tapes, or MP3 files, using flash cards, or reviewing favorite charts, graphs, or notes from you classroom work to fill in the areas you still need to work on.

“You’ve Got Mail” Weekly Progress Meetings and E-mail Updates

Every time I meet my students face to face, they leave with one of my “green sheets.” There’s nothing special about the “green sheets” per se; they’re plain 3 × 4-inch tablets with my name, department, and phone number. I started using them because they were handy and plentiful.

As I meet with each student, I take notes on the green sheet, list goals, and create tasks aimed at achieving those goals. After our session I make a copy of the green sheet for myself and give my student the original.

The best way to monitor your progress is via weekly face-to-face meetings with your coach; the second best is via email, and third best is via phone calls. I think face-to-face meetings are the best because they give both of you the opportunity to build the relationship.

You need a FACULTY COACH™ who’s familiar with the way you think, react, and deal with the ups and downs of Step 1 preparation. There have been times when my students have needed additional support due to a family crisis or to unexpected responses from residents, faculty, and classmates; and because of our coaching relationship, I was able to help more effectively. Sometimes I do coach a student intermittently via e-mail or phone, but my preference is in person.

Weekly face-to-face meetings work best if both you and your FACULTY COACH™ are punctual. My students know that if I meet them after clinic, I may be late depending on how well the residents, patients, and I can keep to the schedule. In this case, my students just bring something to study, knowing that I’ll get to my office as soon as possible. If you or your faculty coach have some unexpected conflict and can’t meet, be sure to call, page, or e-mail each other as soon as you know. If possible, don’t wait till the last minute.

Our flexible agenda usually consists of: check-in (how did the previous week go?), F.A.C.T.O.I.D. notebook review, look at online question scores together, and new task assignments for the coming week. It’s important that you and your FACULTY COACH™ have a way to measure your progress. To do this your FACULTY COACH™ needs to be able to monitor your online progress. You need to respect the website’s rules and regulations, so it’s probably best to log on to the website during a face-to-face meeting so you can briefly show your results to your FACULTY COACH™ in person.

[This is an excerpt from my book, AIM YOUR BRAIN® at USMLE Step 1--The Ultimate System for Mastering Multiple-Choice Exams on the concept of a why having a FACULTY COACH™ will help you study more effectively.]

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