September 25, 2000
Volume XXXIII, No. 34

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Dr. Daniel Dumitru

Photo by Fernando Serna

Dr. Daniel Dumitru checks Dr. Machiel Zwarts for carpal tunnel syndrome.


"I attempt to take a ‘why?’ approach to the understanding of various disease processes. I don’t like to memorize vast amounts of information but rather begin with a few known facts and logically apply them to the question at hand," says Dr. Daniel Dumitru, the residency program director in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine. "When a true understanding of a particular process is achieved, it becomes rather natural to apply this information to novel patient presentations. To me, this is the basis of self-directed adult education or so-called lifelong learning.

"The most profound impact an educator can have on his or her students is to foster their desire to be lifelong learners," says Dr. Dumitru, a professor and deputy chairman in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine. "I have tried to accomplish this task with my students by serving as both a role model for adult continuing education and as a mentor."

Dumitru is an educator who hasn’t lost sight of this ultimate goal. He says he applies the Socratic approach to education, an approach in which "well-posed simple questions progress to more complex issues and eventually lead to a better understanding of not only the question posed, but also self-insight by the student," he says. "Therefore, the linking of more complex concepts becomes an enjoyable process because it leads to a ‘way of thinking.’ When the student is asked to recall this information on a test or in a clinical setting, the anxiety associated with sifting through one’s memory for facts is replaced with a logical thought process that may even be applied to novel situations. With practice, new information is gained that is retained far longer and, in the long run, is more useful clinically. This methodology is equally applicable to clinical teaching as well as research."

He believes students appreciate this approach because it provides them a lifelong tool. After all, in today’s world, there’s a constant bombardment of information.

"If we cannot approach this torrent of knowledge with a viable way of making sense of it all, we will no doubt be overwhelmed and hence become less effective," says Dr. Dumitru, who has been selected as one of "The Best Doctors in America" five times. "Our students recognize at a fundamental level that they must succeed in an information-rich environment, and they are thirsting for methods to cope."

Dr. Dumitru enjoys witnessing the understanding on a student’s face after working through a complex patient problem using "the probing question approach." The next most enjoyable aspect of teaching, he says, is seeing the same look of understanding when a student employs this approach to reach a correct diagnosis.

"The ‘look’ of not only understanding, but actually knowing, they can do it on their own and that they will succeed can only be appreciated by seeing it," says Dumitru, whose "Textbook of Electrodiagnostic Medicine" was selected as one of the best health science books in 1996. "The best answers often begin with formulating penetrating and appropriate questions that guide one in the proper direction. This process also requires that the student feels free to ask any question, regardless of how basic or simple it may seem. Emphasis is placed on asking the same question multiple times in a slightly different way each time so different facets of the same problem can be considered."

It’s clear his former residents have taken his teachings to heart.

"The opportunity to train with Dr. Dumitru has so tempered me that it is not easy to rest simply at the diagnosis, but to seek better understanding of the root cause of pathology," says Dr. Antoinne C. Able, assistant professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine. "He taught and exemplified the many benefits of ‘responsible, self-directed, adult learning.’ This lesson was beneficial for me and other impressionable resident physicians as we made the transition from medical school students to practitioners of health care."

Through example, Dr. Dumitru challenges "students to strive to achieve their maximum potential by emphasizing the reason we are all working together, i.e. to serve our fellow man. It cannot be forgotten that we are treating a person and not a disease."

— Fernando Serna