Fall 2010
Faculty Focus

synapse: University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine

Ken Maehara, Ph.D.

Long time pathology instructor Ken Maehara, Ph.D., is well known to students. Photo by Laura Levin

Pathology instructor promotes self-learning

By Marcie Newpher

Since 1992, faculty member Ken Maehara, Ph.D., has dedicated himself to the studies and teaching of pathology using the Socratic method, which he made his own.

Without using PowerPoint presentations or formal lectures, he chooses instead to integrate learning concepts into courses to see just how much information his second-year medical students comprehend and absorb. Maehara admits that omitting the use of PowerPoint has made it difficult for some students, however, his particular teaching style opens the door to the potential he knows each student possesses.

The Socratic method Maehara uses in his classroom is a give-and-take of questions and answers that promotes instructor-student interaction and self-learning.

Anthony Quinn, Class of 2012, explains. “Instead of formally lecturing, he tests students’ knowledge by presenting common patient scenarios and asking questions about physical exam findings, lab testing and differential diagnosis. This method encourages the essential skill of independent learning that is required for practicing evidence-based medicine.”

Maehara has successfully upheld a reputation of intimidation and fear prior to students taking his pathology course in their second year of medical school.

“I’ve cultivated the fear and intimidation over the years because when the students come to my class in their second year, I want them totally focused. Fear is a great motivator,” said Maehara.

Fear is indeed what heralds him as first-year medical students prepare for his course in their second year. “As first years we learn that the Socratic method instills fear, and by way of fear we learn respect,” said Jacob Zucker, M.D.’10, a pediatric resident at the University of Indiana.

Quinn said students get to know Maehara as the professor who sets rules on tardiness and Internet use, and then bombards them with difficult questions.

Maehara’s faculty peers at the School of Medicine also sing his praises, albeit from a different perspective.

“He inspires students to want to know more. There is a difference between good teachers and great teachers and Dr. Maehara is one of those rare great instructors,” said Gwen Shonkwiler, Ph.D., interim dean for the Office of Medical Education.

Sanford Barsky, M.D., chair of pathology, expresses it differently. “There is a saying that if you want to have an impact on medicine over the next several years, practice medicine; if you want to impact medicine for the next decade, do research; but if you want to impact medicine for the next century; teach.”

“Dr. Ken Maehara reminds me of this saying because he has had a profound impact on medicine that will last for the next century through the countless and grateful students he has taught who have gone on to become thoughtful and caring physicians in their own careers,” Barsky said.

That greatness has not gone unrecognized by the medical school. Maehara has received numerous awards including Outstanding School of Medicine Teacher (1994, 2001), Healthcare Hero in Education (2009) and Division of Health Sciences Teaching Award (2010).

Maehara believes it is the responsibility of the educator to challenge the student in a way that stimulates growth, to promote an appetite for learning and to discover the potential in each of them. He provides his students the foundation and motivation to go out and conduct the necessary research to find the answers.

“We can stimulate them so that maybe it will hit a nerve where they want to know more about a certain subject. Some of this is learned from the way we teach,” said the pathology professor.

The fundamental goal Maehara strives to achieve with each student is to turn out an individual who has the desire for lifelong learning and an understanding of the gift that only knowledge can bring.