News at Medicine - May 2014 - Embryology professor engaged in teaching

Embryology professor engaged in teaching
May 5, 2014
Dr. Gary Paterno has a lot of fun teaching, and the medical students in his embryology class appreciate his style so much that they successfully nominated him for the MUN Student Union Excellence in Teaching Award and Outstanding Contribution to Student Life, presented April 10, 2014.
The nomination came from the medical student classes of 2016 and 2017.  “To be put forward by your students is a very big deal for me,” said Dr. Paterno, who loves to use props during his lectures, such as a sword he uses as a pointer and to slice-and-dice preserved specimens.
Chelsea Ash, president of the Class of 2017, nominated Dr. Paterno for the award, which was supported by three student letters of support.
David Lundrigan (Class of 2017) noted that his class has had many instructors since beginning medical school in September. “All of these instructors have busy schedules outside teaching; therefore, it’s difficult and rare to encounter one who will go leagues out of his or her way just to ensure that the students get the best quality of teaching possible. Our embryology professor, Dr. Gary Paterno, is a perfect example of this kind of instructor. Our class feels that this man embodies everything one needs to properly teach medical students and to make a real impact in our learning the embryology subject area in preparation for our future medical careers.”
Mr. Lundrigan said Dr. Paterno “is extremely engaged with our class and has, in many cases, gone well beyond the expectations for any instructor. When we have lectures, Dr. Paterno will usually get to class 10 to 15 minutes before schedule and chat with us outside the lecture hall. This may seem minor, but many instructors do not do this.”
Mr. Lundrigan added that it is easy to start a conversation with Dr. Paterno. “He is very down to earth and is always friendly and ready for a chat not only about embryology material, but also about how we are doing with our medical school lives in general.  In class, he always makes a point to give students an opportunity to comment or ask questions.  He will take extra time to explain things to a student who does not fully grasp a concept.”
The students also appreciate that Dr. Paterno is very approachable on an electronic level as well.  “I have e-mailed him several times regarding tutorials and clarifications on topics and he always responds in a timely, friendly, and informative manner,” said Mr. Lundrigan.
The students also cited Dr. Paterno’s excellent communication skills. “The topic of embryology can be extremely difficult to grasp and visualize,” said Mr. Lundrigan. “Dr. Paterno has very innovative ways of demonstrating complex topics. For example, he will often use visual aids such as balloons to describe different types of embryonic membranes. He has students volunteer to wear plastic bags in order to help us to visualize various types of membranous layers in the developing fetus. These are concepts that no amount of reading or diagrams will help one to truly understand the idea. He can help us visualize these processes in a way that comes close to us actually seeing the developmental event occur in real time!  Dr. Paterno will also take the time to really focus on important parts of a lecture for our complete understanding instead of having us rely primarily on self-directed learning in order to grasp the main ideas.”
Matt Eagles (Class of 2017) also wrote a letter of support. “Dr. Paterno is charged with teaching embryology: the development of a human, from a single celled organism to a full fetus. It is a topic that can come across as intimidating, as it deals with a myriad of simultaneous processes, none of which are simple. However, Dr. Paterno goes to great lengths to make the material accessible. He employs different props and demonstrations to allow the class to better relate to the microscopic processes involved in human development.  Furthermore, he does a wonderful job of helping students triage information.”

As with all of the biological sciences, the vast amount of information is overwhelming to students, said Mr. Eagles. “Thankfully Dr. Paterno is adamant about what material students must know, and what is less important. He always makes time for his students; he schedules tutorials during his free time to help review before exams, and after every one of his lectures or labs, he is sure to answer every last question from his students, regardless if it is well past the scheduled end time.”
Dr. Paterno is donating the $500 he received with the award to the students, to do with as they wish. “As a teacher, there is no better reward than being recognized by your students. I encourage my students to give back and be teachers all their lives.
“I still get emails from former students  who have been in practice for 15 years who send me info  or cases they have been involved in and say “hey Dr. P. this would be really cool to talk about in embryology class," or "you know that crazy left-sided colon you talked about 10 years ago  .. Well I finally saw a case and thought of your class!”
“It’s this kind of feedback that gives me the most satisfaction,” said Dr. Paterno.

Dr. Paterno illustrates his sword "prop" with students (from left):Matt Eagles, Alison Howley (Med 2), Dave Lundrigan and Chelsea Ash.