Training Technicians: How to Encourage Critical Thinking in Your Trainees so They Become Prepared Employees

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We’re excited to share his article, which originally was written for ATPO’s monthly memo from January 2017. It is written by Jacqueline Pullos, COMT to be great resource for technician trainers. We are posting it now to give you advice on how to encourage the use of critical thinking in your trainee so that they can become amazing employees.

In the movie, “The Paper Chase,” a key character is a brilliant, although intimidating, contract law professor. The professor starts day one of his class by questioning his students about a case that had been assigned to be read, prior to the start of the semester. There is no lecture – just a seemingly brutal question-and-answer session that seems to never end, no matter how well students answer the questions.

On day two, the professor explains:

“We use the Socratic Method, here. I call on you, ask you a question, and you answer it. Why don’t I just give you a lecture? Because through my questions, you learn to teach yourselves.”

The Socratic Method

The best trainers are not necessarily intimidating, but do incorporate a bit of Socratic Teaching in their training. Rather than pummel new technicians with information and expect them to remember it, effective trainers use
this method of questioning and answering to help technicians find credible answers and solutions, by themselves. The answer to one questions leads to another.

For example:

“Can you always refract the patient to the level of the pinhole acuity?” “Why?”

“Can you give an example?”

This is a powerful exercise in critical thinking, an essential skill for technicians.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is the intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reaction, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action.

Effective trainers use critical thinking skills as they train. For example, if a new technician is struggling with accurate Goldmann tonometry readings, effective trainers do not tell the technician, “You’re reading is almost always 3 mmHg higher than mine,” and leave it at that. Instead, they begin questioning possible causes for the difference. Is lid holding involved?

Have I taught the technician how to properly hold lids? Are patients holding their breath? Have I discussed how this impacts tonometry readings? Could my own tonometry readings be incorrect? The best trainers walk new technicians through this process, teaching them how to objectively think through problems, themselves.

Our responsibility as technician trainers is to prepare our trainees to work independently in clinic. We take them through the basics of training – providing the how and the why, but eventually they must learn to seek this out on their own. We can help teach them how to do this early in the training process by helping them develop critical thinking skills.


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