Associate Professor Katrina Anderson

Australian Award for University Teaching - Award for Teaching Excellence
Associate Professor
Academic Unit of General Practice
ANU College of Health and Medicine

Dr Katrina Anderson is Associate Professor, Academic Unit of General Practice, ANU Medical School (ANUMS) and Chair of the Canberra Region Medical Education Council. Katrina currently works clinically in refugee and asylum seeker health and has a variety of roles within the ANUMS and ACT Health in training medical students and junior doctors.

Her main research and education interests are in medical education specifically around the vertical integration of medical training, supervisor support and prevocational training of doctors. She has a special interest in mental health, counselling and self-care and is passionate about patient centred medicine and improving health outcomes for vulnerable and disadvantaged patients.

Katrina completed her undergraduate medical degree at the University of Newcastle, NSW in 1990. She became a Fellow of the RACGP in 1995 and has been a medical educator and academic since 1994 initially with the RACGP then with the Australian National University Medical School. She was the Director of GP Training for the SENSW and ACT region for 8 years and also Director of the Prevocational GP Placement Program for 6 years.

Katrina is currently the Chair of the Integrated Child and Community Health semester in the third year medical school program at ANUMS. She is Director of the Healer's Art Course delivered to first year medical students. She also led the development of the Canberra Region Medical Eduction Council which oversees the quality and safety of junior doctor training and the professional development of doctors in training in the ACT and SENSW region. 

Katrina received an Australian Award for University Teaching - Award for Teaching Excellence in 2017.


Q: What motivates and inspires you in your teaching?

To counteract the hidden curriculum in medicine, my leadership in education is around challenging the medical world to restore the human side of medicine by recognising and supporting the wholeness and uniqueness of each individual and how that leads to healing. In the end, it is the modelling students have experienced across the learning continuum from their teachers that will have the greatest impact on how they practice as doctors. My work is underpinned by a deep belief that students who are reflective, adaptive and engaged are likely to become reflective doctors who can sustain their enthusiasm and commitment to work. I am committed to the education of future doctors who are patient centred, competent and compassionate, and I have implemented longitudinal learning to develop this.

Q: What do you enjoy most about being a teacher?

I am curious about people and how they live their lives and cope with challenges. I am interested in both patients and students in this regard. I am fascinated by the individual journey of a student and how they develop competence and understanding about patient care and become a compassionate professional. I love hearing different perspectives from students and being challenged about how I practice as a clinician. I enjoy challenging my own critical thinking and problem solving skills and helping students to do the same. Medicine is never dull so long as students can see that there is a person with their life story before them and it is an honour to be trusted to hear that story. When students discover this I am reminded of how wonderful my job is and how privileged I am to journey with patients.

Q: How do you motivate, inspire and engage your students in and out of the classroom?

The best way to teach students to be patient-centred is to model that in my behaviour towards them by being learner-centred. I am interested in each student; where they come from, what their life experience has been and what their vision for the future involves. Medicine is so much more than scientific knowledge - it is about communication, interpersonal relationships, team work and professionalism. It is about being compassionate, caring and a person people can trust. We must be competent as doctors but competence is about how you translate medical knowledge in a two way relationship with a patient. Being open, honest, respectful and caring in my interactions with students will hopefully inspire them to be like that with patients.

I work with refugees and asylum seekers and having students in my practice attached to me clinically is a great way for them to gain empathy, understanding and compassion and to practice their skills in understanding how people survive and flourish in the face of adversity.

I am a "doer" and so I believe students need to "do" the real work environment of clinical medicine. For most medical students knowledge and learning is the most interesting when it is translated into the real work environment of clinical patient care. Get students doing meaningful things that are helpful to patients and to the world at large and they will be inspired.

Q: What qualities do you need to be an outstanding teacher in higher education?

The internet has transformed the way we teach. Teachers no longer need to be the expert handing out knowledge as it is now so readily available but rather we need to be a coach or master guiding the student to work out how to use that knowledge in the future and apply it practically. In medicine students need knowledge but the most crucial skills we give them is how to apply that knowledge in their clinical reasoning and problem solving skills. This needs guidance and feedback. Helping students to be lifelong learners and reflectors is therefore crucial in medicine. Openness, being comfortable with being challenged and having ongoing curiosity and interest in your subject and your students are important qualities to sustain you as a teacher.

Q: What are the ongoing challenges in developing your teaching practices?

In medicine patients are very generous in contributing to student learning but we must always be mindful that teaching is secondary to patient care and this is a challenge for many of us as we balance the needs of patients with student learning.

Time is also a problem in a 4 year postgraduate degree. There is very little space in the curriculum and students are constantly overwhelmed with a huge number of well-intentioned educational tasks but little time to implement and reflect on them. Medical students are stressed because we do have very high expectations of them and supporting them in their psychological and emotional growth as well as their intellectual growth is very important.

Q: Tell us about an approach you have taken in the classroom of which you've been proud.

Developing emotional intelligence and understanding the complexity of what a patient wants from us as a doctor is challenging. Doctors deal with people in severe distress and must be able to empathise and have compassion yet not be overwhelmed by suffering. Helping students to engage with self-awareness of their own emotions and then the emotions of others is crucial but so often neglected in medical training. I use visual art, film, poetry and safe small group learning spaces to create discussion and reflection engaging students at a deeper level of self-awareness. Students are able to make themselves vulnerable in my tutorials and share stories of themselves or patients that are meaningful to their learning and professional development. Years later they come back to me and tell me how they have grown as a person or how it now finally makes sense.

Q: If the VC asked you how you would change teaching and learning at ANU, what would you say?

The personal interaction in eduction is crucial. We can put a lot of knowledge and information into online interactions to support learning but the growth of the human person still needs an interpersonal relationship - between student and teacher, between apprentice and master. Engaging students at an individual level in their own learning journey through a personal interaction will always be crucial to inspire and empower students to their best. Role modelling and meaningful learning experiences that engage people's hearts as well as their minds must not be lost in this screen based technological age.