See One, Do One, Teach One

The world of medical education is full of tricks, tips, mnemonics, and centuries of structured process. One of the concepts born in the corridors of teaching hospitals of the world is the idea of: See One, Do One, Teach One.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, fear not, it is exactly as it sounds. No matter the level of medical training, the expectation is this:

  • The “teacher” shows one or more students a procedure (See One).
  • Once properly instructed, those students are expected to be able to perform that procedure on their own, possibly with some guidance and supervision (Do One).
  • With the benefit of both the instruction and hands on experience, the student is now expected to pass that knowledge along to the next “student” who has yet to acquire the knowledge in question (Teach One).

I put both teacher and student in quotes because those roles can be played by anyone in the medical ecosystem. The philosophy knows neither titles nor hierarchy. For example the teacher could be a custodian showing an experienced physician how to operate a new piece of non-medical equipment in the hospital. The physician in turn is then expected to pass that information along to anyone (doctor, nurse, orderly, patient) who might find it useful.


The interesting thing about this approach is it relies on only the smallest difference in knowledge to transform student to teacher and vice versa. Read on and you’ll see what I’m talking about.


In early January 1992, I boarded a plane in Rochester NY, bound for New York City. I was seven months out of college and after living at home for more than half a year; I had saved up enough cash to move to the big city. This particular trip was a five-day scouting mission during which I planned on finding an apartment for myself (and my dog Sylvia), as well as a job.

Certainly five days in Manhattan should be plenty of time
for those two tasks, right?

My college friend Christy had graciously agreed to let me crash on her couch for the entire trip, since five days of NYC hotels would have gobbled up much of my savings. I arrived on a Saturday and the next morning I was up bright and early pouring over the real estate and employment sections of the New York Times.

Finding an apartment wasn’t too difficult and after looking at about a dozen of them I settled on a tiny little place on East 74th St. between First and York avenues.


My little apartment building on the Upper East Side

The job searched proved to be a bit trickier.

Having graduated the previous May from Lehigh University with a BA in English & theatre, I wasn’t specifically qualified for anything, however with such a broad-based degree I wasn’t disqualified from much either. My global plan was to pursue a career in writing/acting/directing within some amalgamation of television/film/theatre.

Clearly I was going to need a real job for a while.

Wanting to keep my days free to chase down creative opportunities, I applied for after-hours jobs in security and computer support, but the first one to call with an interview was a job in technical writing.

Having worked in the computer store at Lehigh for three years, combined with my English degree, this was a job I could probably handle without too much trouble. The woman on the phone said I would need to come prepared to perform tasks in Microsoft Word and Excel.

I was fairly comfortable in Word, but I had never once used Excel.

Remember, this was 1992 and software like this was not the ubiquitous common thing that it is today. While all four of my children in 2015 know their way around the entire Microsoft Office Suite, it was not at all strange that a recent humanities graduate had not touched Excel.

After the phone call with the recruiter, I had fewer than forty-eight hours to learn Excel well enough to pass the test. Of course since it was 1992, I did not have a laptop with me nor access to a computer in the city.

The functional Internet was still years away.

So, what we did back then was find a book. I went to a computer bookstore in the basement of the Time-Life building on Sixth Avenue and purchased a book on the basics of Excel 3.0.

I read it cover to cover – twice.

By the time I got to the interview I had certainly “seen” plenty of Excel, though it had been on the pages of a book instead of the screen of a computer. Fortunately for me at that time there wasn’t much difference between the two. Excel was still in black and white.

After the face-to-face part of the interview, they sat me down in front of a computer and asked me to complete a list of tasks in both Word and Excel. I passed with flying colors and at a speed that truly surprised the recruiter. At this point it was safe to say that I had competently “done one.”

The recruiter said that they would get back to me within the week. The next day I signed the lease on my apartment, and flew home to Rochester to pack up a U-Haul.

While I was home I received a call telling me that the job had gone to someone with more experience, but that they would keep me in mind for future positions.

Two weeks later, Sylvia and I returned to New York to settle into our new apartment. Having had such good luck on the interview for a technical writing position, I decided to narrow my focus to jobs of that type. After a few more interviews I landed a gig as a technical writer for the software division of Bell Atlantic (what today we call Verizon).

My first day on the job was in early March 1992,
I was twenty-four years old.

I presented myself at the appointed time and place. I was introduced to the woman who would be my boss and she walked me to a cubicle where I would be working. On the desk was a stack of resumes. My boss told me that we needed a team of four technical writers, so my first task was to go through the stack of resumes and find the ones I’d like to interview. I was to select three to hire, and I was to be the team leader.

Over the next week the team was hired, and before long I found myself in the role of teacher, spelling out what we needed to do and how we were going to do it. Forget the fact that every person I hired was anywhere from five to twenty years my senior.

There is a popular board game called Othello that is based on the ancient game of Reversi. The tag line on the Othello box reads:

A minute to learn…a lifetime to master!


There is this false notion that to be a teacher one must be a master of the subject and this is simply not true. We all have things to teach others and the sooner we do, the better the world will be.

So, get out there and See One, Do One and Teach One. The results of such an exercise just might surprise you.


Copyright © 2015 – Stephen S. Nazarian – All rights reserved.

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