Guiding the Future: A Preceptor’s Journey in Medical Education

Linda Ferelle, MS3, with Shari Jackson, M.D., FAAP- According to Linda, “One of my favorite memories with Dr. Jackson was celebrating Halloween. This year she dressed up as Cruella de Vil, and I surprised her by showing up as one of the Dalmatians. It was so fun seeing the whole clinic get into it. Everyone dressed up and the kids loved it!”

Shari Jackson, M.D., FAAP, a passionate pediatrician and dedicated preceptor at the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine, shares her insightful journey and experiences in shaping the future of health care through medical education.

With a longstanding commitment to teaching, Jackson's journey as a preceptor began during her time as an attending physician in the military at an Army hospital, where she mentored residents while serving on active duty. Since then, she has sought positions where teaching was ingrained in the culture. Joining MyCHN (Community Health Network) in 2014, Jackson has taught a diverse array of clinical students, and in 2021, she began precepting students from the Fertitta Family College of Medicine.

Her decision to become a physician was deeply rooted in her childhood experiences and a desire to make a meaningful difference in the lives of children and families. According to Jackson, “My mother was a Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU) registered nurse (RN). When I was growing up I spent many hours in the breakroom, which was just off the main SICU bay, and I saw a lot more than they realized I did. I always knew I wanted to take care of the sick kids, not sick adults.”

For Jackson, the most rewarding aspect of being a preceptor lies in witnessing the ‘ah-ha’ moments when students grasp complex concepts and develop their clinical skills. From mastering examination techniques to formulating comprehensive treatment plans, she finds joy in guiding students through their journey to becoming competent physicians. Jackson cherishes the variety of patients seen in pediatrics, relishing each opportunity to impart knowledge and foster connections with families.

A typical day with medical students is a dynamic blend of patient care and hands-on learning. It starts with a collaborative huddle with the medical assistant, where they review patient cases and plan their approach for the day. Throughout the day, they see a wide range of patients, addressing various health concerns and discussing management strategies. “What I love about pediatrics and primary care in general is the variety of patients that we see on a given day.  Anything that walks in the door from newborn to late adolescence—we handle it.”

She guides students through patient encounters, gradually allowing them to take on more responsibility as their confidence grows. “They initially begin their rotation by shadowing me. Eventually, they are handling the patients independently and presenting their patient, along with a differential, assessment and treatment plan, and finally they tell the patient the plan and give patient education.”

A common, yet joyful, experience Jackson has precepting is witnessing students overcome challenges and achieve significant milestones in their clinical skills. Whether it's mastering the art of pediatric physical exams or confidently interacting with families, each breakthrough reaffirms the impact of medical education. She finds fulfillment in knowing that she has played a role in shaping the future of health care.

Perhaps her favorite memory is when “one of my students, near the end of their rotation, asked if I would be his infant daughter’s pediatrician, and a year later his newborn son’s. That truly touched me.” 

Third year medical student Linda Ferelle learned a great deal during her rotation. “Dr. Jackson is that one preceptor I will never forget, the kind I will remember long after my training days are over. I saw her compassionate care extend not only to her patients, but to staff, students and all of those around her. Aside from being exceptional with patients, her passion for teaching students really allowed me to grow and gain confidence in my own clinical skills. Beyond simply being a physician, Dr. Jackson is someone I consider a mentor, and a friend whose impact on patients and aspiring doctors is immeasurable.”

Beyond clinical skills, Jackson strives to instill a passion for pediatric care and a commitment to lifelong learning in her students. She shares valuable insights on work-life balance and resilience, encouraging students to persevere through challenges and pursue their passions in medicine. “Often, this journey is hard. You get some scrapes and bumps, and you get disappointed. It may not go as you planned, but that’s life. It happened for many of us as well, but we persevered and made it through, and you can, too, if you want this.”

As Jackson reflects on her journey, she remains committed to fostering the next generation of compassionate and competent physicians. Through her unwavering dedication to medical education, she hopes to inspire students to find joy and fulfillment in the practice of medicine, ultimately making a profound difference in the lives of their patients and communities.