Adam Feather, creator of the revision lecture series Feather does Finals
Being a doctor is a great privilege
Adam Feather is the lecturer behind Feather does Finals, a series of eight video lectures covering the core curriculum for medical school finals. The series has become a regular pilgrimage for final year medical students in the United Kingdom because the lectures are clinically based, concise, and engaging with a thorough index of what each lecture covers. Feather is a senior lecturer in medical education at Barts and the London medical school and is also a consultant geriatrician at Newham University Hospital NHS Trust. He has written numerous books on objective structured clinical exams and extended matching question/multiple choice question exams and has been an external examiner across UK medical schools.
How did Feather does Finals begin?
It started when I was asked to teach clinical pharmacology at Barts when I was a senior house officer. I had no idea about pharmacology, but I agreed to do it anyway. I started teaching in a classroom that could seat 20 people, and within three weeks there were 50 people turning up. The next year two groups asked me if I would put on clinical medicine revision sessions. My girlfriend (now my wife) started complaining that she never saw me because I was teaching clinical medicine on two nights a week and pharmacology on one. I decided the solution was to do them all on one night in a big lecture theatre and let anyone come. Two years later, I had up to 300 people coming to the lectures. Students who were on placement said that they were missing out, so we filmed the lectures and put the videos online. They have now gone global and I am receiving thank you emails from Australia, Korea, the United States, anywhere.
The concept of putting on the revision lectures came from my own finals experience. I worked too hard and often in isolation. I wanted to create something that students come to and see that their peers are in the same boat and at the same level.
Should all doctors teach?
All doctors should be capable of training others, but I don’t believe all should have to teach. I think teaching is a skill that should be appreciated and valued. Teaching is about enthusing and engaging students, and I don’t think everyone has the ability to stand up in front of a lecture theatre. The role of a teacher is to engage their students, to question them, [and get them] to go away, look things up, and then challenge you on what you said. A difficulty for educators today is that mobile technology allows students to look things up during a lecture and they can challenge you then and there.
Who were your role models throughout your training?
When I was on my first house job I worked with an inspirational man. He did a midnight endoscopy list every night and would then see 100 people in an outpatient clinic the next morning. He challenged my view of my career. He said, “You have a natural flair for being a physician, why don’t you take the MRCP [membership of the Royal College of Physicians exam]?” To which I replied, “I’m not bright enough for the MRCP.” His response to just get on and do it was exactly the kick I needed. I then proved him wrong because I failed it three times before passing.
Another inspiring person was my surgical boss as a house officer. He was an incredible doctor and proud of the job he did. On the second day of my surgical firm he called me and said, “Where are you?” I said, “I’m on the wards doing jobs,” to which he replied, “No, no, no. Your job is to be a surgical house officer. Come down here and learn surgery.” He would expect you to scrub in, operate, and learn the anatomy. These guys were great; they didn’t have job plans, they weren’t told to teach they just did it, and if they needed to be in at six o’clock they would be in. That was the last generation of great clinicians.
He also gave me the best piece of advice I have received. I told him I had always wanted to go travelling around the world but was afraid I would never get a job in London if I did this. He looked at me over his half glasses and said, “You don’t want to work for people like that do you?” And off I went round the world for two years.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a doctor?
I flunked my A levels so I had to spend a year re-sitting chemistry. While I was doing this I worked in factories, which was the making of me. It made me realise what a great opportunity you have and how privileged you are to become a doctor.
After I failed my A levels I was offered a place to study marine biology at university, which was extremely tempting because I am a big swimmer. When I’m watching documentaries with these guys with six pack abs, an incredible tan, and 10 beautiful PhD students following them round the Pacific Ocean, I sometimes wonder if I made the right choice.
What do you do to relax?
I swim two to three times a week and I love a sporting challenge. I did the one million metres challenge on a rowing machine, which is 3 km a night, every night of the year, so if you miss a session you have to do 6 km the next night. Unfortunately, I was ill in October so I had to make it up in December. I had 333 000 m to row, which meant I had to do 10 km every night. Christmas meant I would miss a few nights, so at the weekend I was doing 21 km, which was like doing a half marathon of rowing.Joe Dixon, foundation year 1 doctor
King’s College Hospital, London, UK
Competing interests: None declared.
Provenance and peer review: Commissioned; not externally peer reviewed.