1. Miller, Lisa A. JD, CNM

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Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.


John Cotton Dana


John Cotton Dana lived from 1856 to 1929, and although he began his career as a lawyer, he changed roles and was a public librarian for 40 years. His goal was to make the library, as well as reading, accessible to all community members, and he (and his legacy) is recognized by the American Library Association in the form of an award given annually to libraries with the best public relations. How do I know this? I found the quote first when looking for quotes about teachers, and becoming curious about the author, I did the research. My neonatal column coauthor, Terese Verklan, described a similar experience with researching something with which she was unfamiliar in her last column. That column, like this one, was about learning and teaching. Also, her call for improved education in the clinical setting is timely and must be followed.


This column is a bit different because it relates to education and learning from outside one's own culture, or discipline. Also, it all began with a rant [horizontal ellipsis] but first, the backstory.


Teaching multidisciplinary fetal monitoring and patient safety programs across the country is how I currently earn a living, and I truly enjoy it. I often teach with a perinatologist, and we have developed an effective way of sharing the day's content and acting as role models for multidisciplinary collaboration. We have never had any difficulties with hospitals or universities in meeting the requirements for both nursing and medical continuing education credits, and we use a curriculum grid for this process that shows objectives, content outline, references, etc. But our schedules do not always coincide, and we frequently present the same material independently. This was the plan at a large teaching hospital, and I was quite excited about the opportunity because the audience was to be truly multidisciplinary, including residents and students. Imagine my shock (and, yes, I admit, anger) when just a few weeks before the program I was told by the nurse who planned the program that the residents and physicians would not be coming. They would not be attending because the residency program director refused to submit the paperwork for continuing medical education, not because the content was not appropriate but because it was being taught by a nurse!! Long story short, I did the program, assured the nurse who had planned it that I understood it was not her fault, and that I was sorry that she had to deal with a colleague who was so shortsighted.


Then, in the relative privacy of a taxicab (I was traveling when I got the news), I called my perinatologist pal and began to rant. I will spare you the details, but it was not pretty, and after I vented and hung up the phone I apologized to the taxicab driver, who was the unwilling audience to my short rage. We began talking about how biased people can be and how important it is to be open to learning from any source, regardless of your own level of education. The cab driver then told me a story about a professor of philosophy he knew. The professor, along with his wife and 4 children, immigrated to the United States many years ago from Kenya, attaining asylum with the help of a church group here in the states. The family arrived in Denver, after more than 24 hours of air travel, late at night, and was whisked into a minivan and deposited for the night at a local motel. Exhausted, but thrilled to be safe and away from the war in their native country, they fell quickly asleep. The professor was the first to rise, just at daybreak, and was horrified when he opened the curtains of the motel window. So horrified that he began to weep. For when he opened the curtain, he said he saw the end of the world-everything was still, there was such silence, and the ground and trees were covered in white ash. His wife woke next, and as they peered out from behind the curtains, they could only think of what they had done to their children, bringing them from a war-ravaged country only to arrive in the middle of another disaster.


Now you have likely already guessed that what the professor and his wife saw was a fresh 2 ft of snow that had been dumped on Denver overnight, and you (as I) may question how an educated man does not recognize snow, but it turns out reading about snow is a very different experience than seeing it for the first time. Truly frightened, but not completely without his wits, the professor noticed a young man pushing a laundry cart and whistling. This made him think that perhaps it was not the end of the world, and he cautiously cracked open the door to talk to the young man. The maintenance worker, upon hearing the professor ask what was happening, was at first incredulous and did not understand. When it struck him that the professor was afraid of the snow, he began to laugh and picked up a handful to show the professor. Relieved now, the professor laughed as well.


Hearing the story, I was terribly moved. I was also ashamed of my rant, for there are worse things in the world than the insult to my pride. But I was most taken with the professor's seeming willingness to learn from the young maintenance worker and with the delight of the maintenance worker in being able to teach the professor and his family about snow. When I asked what happened to the professor, the cab driver smiled. "He is me," said the cab driver, "and I am almost finished with my degree here so I can teach."


Turns out, the professor had to overcome some bias here in the United States and get another degree to qualify academically. But did he rage and rant? Not a bit.


What is the moral of the story of the professor and the taxi driver? Well, I know I learned a great deal during that cab ride, and I think there are many lessons that Professor Noor in Denver could provide for all of us, but I will leave you with just two. First, we can all learn from others, regardless of the letters (or lack thereof) after their name, and, second, being both open to learning and grateful for the opportunity helps. So, here is a nod to John Cotton Dana, the lawyer/librarian, and a thank you to Farah Noor, professor and taxicab driver. May we all be blessed by knowing people like these two, and may we never reject a lesson simply on the basis of who is providing it.


Lisa A. Miller, JD, CNM


President, Perinatal Risk Management and Education, Services, Chicago, Illinois