Irby-James Award for Excellence in Clinical Teaching

If, as a new student or resident, you followed Dr. Marjolein de Wit, associate professor of internal medicine, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, around the Medical Respiratory Intensive Care Unit (MRICU), you might feel you had wandered into an alternative medical version of Hogwarts, with spells and incantations spilling from the teacher’s mouth to the students trailing behind. “Mind the gap!” “How about the yums yums?” “I’m a Tegger?” As others noticed your baffled expression, they would take you aside and say “Don’t worry, de Wit will teach you everything you need to know.” And over the next few days, or weeks or years, she would, as she has for countless learners for the last 10 years at VCU.

“I was first exposed to Dr. de Wit as a fourth-year medical student when I was attending her renowned acid base lecture,” recalls internal medicine resident Joshua Morales, M.D. As an intern, Morales remembers de Wit “explaining the etiology of our new patient’s hypoxemia to my upper-level resident who quickly understood; unfortunately, I was not able to follow. She then effortlessly proceeded to break down her explanation into simpler terms for me to understand, and then did this again for the medical students. In a period of 15 minutes, she was able to teach the same thing at three different levels without breaking stride: a talent that only a few have.”

De Wit teaches a wide range of learners, including medical students, residents, fellows, community physicians, pharmacy residents and the interdisciplinary team in the MRICU. Kristin Miller, M.D., assistant professor of internal medicine, marvels that “regardless of how busy she is, she always makes time to teach students, residents, nurses and respiratory therapists.”

“The worry that comes with any ICU experience as an intern could only disappear as Dr. de Wit transformed the ICU into a living laboratory,” recalls Matthew R. Kappus, M.D., chief medical resident. “From the complex, often highly intense clinical cases, Dr. de Wit broke down material into manageable ‘bites’ and helped the entire team understand the processes that we are helping our patients through.”

In this way, “patients get the best care possible while they are critically ill,” agrees Wendy Amorim, R.N., CRRN, patient care coordinator for the MRICU. In recognition of her skill and dedication, De Wit has received many teaching awards from the Department of Internal Medicine.

de Wit holds a M.S. degree in clinical research and biostatistics, and is extremely effective in incorporating evidence-based medicine into her daily teaching, relating it to bedside patient care. “She is able to explain what constitutes current standard of care for a particular medical problem by describing the evolution of research in that particular area,” John Nestler, M.D., William Branch Porter Professor and chair of internal medicine explains. “She receives high praise from medical students for her ability to teach differential diagnoses and the appropriate tests to confirm or refute these diagnoses.”

In addition to her clinical teaching, de Wit has mentored 14 housestaff in research projects over the past ten years.

de Wit has an exceptionally warm, respectful approach to all around her. She is known for creating a supportive learning environment while pushing people to the best of their ability, a difficult balance.

“Although Dr. de Wit is the best teacher I have had, her most important attribute is her compassion for patients and their families. She speaks to families openly and honestly and with such warmth,” describes internal medicine resident Gary Simmons.

So, if you overhear someone talking about the “Book of de Witicisms,” it is not a book of spells, but it is equally magical — a testament to Dr. Marjolein de Wit’s ability to teach us how to give our patients the best possible care.