Medical Prof. Tom Gest was making routine announcements before his Gross Anatomy 500 class yesterday afternoon when he was interrupted mid-sentence by another group that had an announcement to make – Gest received this year’s annual Golden Apple Award.
Gest, who said the award was completely unexpected, also received a standing ovation from his more than 170 students.
“I feel very honored. I really am surprised that I would be chosen from so many extremely qualified people. Receiving the award was a surprise to me and a distinct honor,” he said.
Gest, who began teaching at the University five years ago, is the 13th individual to receive a Golden Apple Award, presented by Students Honoring Outstanding University Teaching. The award gives students the chance to nominate professors via a form online asking why the professor would be a worthy recipient.
For Gest, the most exciting part of teaching in the Medical School is being able to follow the students from the first day of class until graduation and seeing them develop and mature, he said, adding that watching them grow into the roles of physicians both in knowledge and behavior is very satisfying.
“It seems odd to get an award for something I enjoy doing so much. I’d almost do this for free but I have to pay the bills,” he said.
Having taught anatomy to medical students throughout the United States for the past 20 years, Gest said he recognizes the importance of not making the material harder than it has to be and emphasized his desire to help students get the most possible out of the semester.
An important aspect of helping students learn comes from small group interactions, he said. That’s a lesson he learned from his major professor in graduate school, who instead of taking in “a platoon of graduate students and letting them sink or swim” took on one student at a time and invested all his time in that individual.
“I think part of my approach to teaching goes back to that,” he said. “He was definitely a large influence on my career, but I’ve known a lot of excellent teachers and they’ve all inspired me to try to attain as high a level as I can attain in teaching quality, so that’s always been my desire, my goal.”
Active learning is another necessary element in a successful classroom, and decreasing lecture time and passive learning to make time for more group work and interaction has been a top priority for Gest.
“I enjoy interaction with really bright students. Medical students are always really bright and so stimulating to be with – it’s a pleasure to teach people who are so easy to teach and so eager to learn,” he said.
First-year Medical student Melissa Brooks described her professor as committed and accessible.
Brooks said she wasn’t at all surprised that he received the Golden Apple Award – in fact, she was one of the students who nominated him.
She said he was the first person she thought of after receiving the e-mail asking if she wanted to nominate a teacher for the awards.
“For someone who makes such a big impact on you your first year of medical school, you don’t forget someone like that,” she said.
“You read an e-mail like that and Dr. Gest just pops into your head,” she added.
Anatomy is known for being unpleasant and the hardest class a student will take in the first year of medical school, Brooks said, but thanks to Gest she will look back on anatomy as a “genuinely pleasant experience.”
“He spends a lot of time with us and it’s motivating. It makes us feel that the time we put into anatomy is worth it because Dr. Gest is there to back us up and is there to help us,” she said.
Brooks also spoke of Gest’s dedication to his students and the passion he brings to his teaching.
“If you look when he pulls his calendar up you can see he doesn’t take a lunch hour. He books straight through lunch, at least during the two weeks before finals and meets with small groups of students,” Brooks said.
“I’ve seen him in every Sunday before we have a Monday exam teaching people, working with groups of people and individuals.”