An Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Pasternak, MD, the Winner of the 2021 SNACC Teacher of the Year – Lifetime Educator Award

Tumul Chowdhury MD


Tumul Chowdhury MD, DM, FRCPC
Assistant Editor, SNACC Newsletter

The SNACC Teacher of the Year Award recognizes a person who exemplifies a career dedicated to teaching and mentoring health care professionals or basic scientists in perioperative neurosciences. With a strong track record in Neuroanesthesiology education and training, Dr. Jeffrey Pasternak was awarded the 2021 SNACC Teacher of the Year – Lifetime Educator Award. He is currently working as a consultant Anesthesiologist at the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, Mayo Clinic, and is a Professor of Anesthesiology at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science, Rochester MN, USA. He has been a mentor for several residents, fellows, nurse anesthetists, and other graduate students. He has received several teaching awards locally and contributed to SNACC in various roles, including the President during 2017-18. In addition, he is one of the Associate Editors of the Journal of Neurosurgical Anesthesiology (JNA). Another significant contribution of Dr. Pasternak remains the most popular article published each year in JNA-‘Neuroanesthesiology Update’

Jeffrey Pasternak, MD
  1. Did you always want to be a neuroanesthesiologist?

No. In fact, I did not give medicine much consideration as a possible career until after I finished college. I originally wanted to be a chemist. After college, I decided to attend graduate school, thinking I would obtain my Ph.D. in physical chemistry but did not enjoy it as much as I had anticipated. After obtaining my master’s degree, I worked in the industry as a chemist for a few years before deciding to completely change careers and attend medical school. Early in medical school, I really enjoyed the nervous system, and I liked working with my hands, so I thought about pursuing a career in neurosurgery. However, in rotations involving the operating room, I found myself so drawn to the anesthesiologist’s role. I found that anesthesiology, especially neuroanesthesiology, fulfilled my interests in the nervous system and procedures, as well as utilized my background as a chemist. Neuroanesthesiology was a natural career choice for me. I really love my job!

  1. What factor was most influential in your success as an academic neuroanesthesiologist?

I was very fortunate to have a great primary mentor and multiple secondary mentors throughout my career, but most importantly, early in my career. These individuals were critical at giving be both positive and constructive feedback, helping navigate projects, and helping me make important connections both within my institution and outside my institution. Honestly, I really have to thank SNACC for being a platform for me to find not just mentors but many dear friends who have all served as important guides and advisors during my academic journey.

  1. What has fueled your passion for teaching?

It has probably been the feedback that I have received from students. It makes me very happy to hear from students that the topics we discussed showed up in exam questions or that they found a clinical pointer very helpful and have incorporated it into their practice. I once had a very long discussion with a learner about the effect of pH on drug ionization involving Le Chatelier’s principle and the Henderson-Hasselbach equation. About a year later, that same learner came to find me because they were studying for an exam and found an error in a textbook about the effect of pH on drug ionization. I thought to myself, “it really stuck,” and it made me proud!

  1. If your students only remember one thing that you taught them, what would you want that to be?

Do not ever take things at face value or just assume that something that you have been told is correct. You should always verify!

  1. What one thing do you find challenging about being a clinical teacher and why?

Giving learners feedback. I still really struggle with optimizing how I give learners feedback. People do not want to hear that they have done something incorrect or inferiorly. Yet, giving a learner that information is critical for their growth. Giving feedback to a learner needs to be delivered in an appropriate setting and with appropriate language and support for the learner. It is very important for the learner to come away from the interaction feeling good about themselves so that they know that my intention was to give them information that they can use to grow. I think it is easy to give feedback but very challenging to give feedback that is effective and thoughtful without making someone feel bad.

  1. In the challenging times of COVID-19, can you share your perspective about teaching residents?

COVID-19 made everything difficult. Didactic lectures were initially canceled and then resumed in a remote format. Zoom lectures are just not the same. It is difficult to have an engaged discussion about a topic or even ask questions of the group to start a discussion. It was challenging to have a one-on-one discussion with a mentee or student behind a mask. I quickly realized how dependent I have been on visual stimuli, such as reading facial expressions, to determine if my point was effectively made or if some of the audience was confused. I think that the key to successful teaching during the pandemic was to do what we did with everything else – adapt and think outside the box to discover new ways to be an effective educator and mentor.


  1. What one piece of advice do you have for future clinical teachers?

Training the next generation of clinicians is critical to the success and advancement of our specialty. Some key teaching opportunities do not always require a lengthy discussion about a topic (although, yes, lengthy discussions about certain topics are important.) Some key opportunities are very short but still very impactful. Words like “great job, I liked the way that you did that” can re-enforce a strong skill. A sentence or two intended to fill a subtle hole in someone’s knowledge base can open up the big picture for a learner. My advice to future clinical teachers is to take the role of an educator very seriously and be sure to not miss out on the brief opportunities to convey information, enforce a skill, or optimize a behavior.

  1. Finish this sentence: A great teacher is someone who…

…….…inspires their students also to be great teachers.

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