Q+A: Arna Banerjee, MBBS

From the Summer 2017 edition of Vanderbilt Medicine Magazine

Photo by Daniel Dubois

Physician-educator Arna Banerjee, MBBS, associate professor of Anesthesiology, Surgery, and Medical Education and Administration, is a national leader in medical simulation training. She is director of Vanderbilt’s Center for Experiential Learning and Assessment (CELA) and assistant dean for Simulation in Medical Education for Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. She also provides perioperative care for adult patients in Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Nashville VA Medical Center intensive care units.

Why did you choose Critical Care Medicine as a clinical specialty?

My first rotation as a resident was in Neuro ICU. By the end of that month, I had fallen in love with it. It’s incredibly satisfying when you’re caring for really sick people, and you can make a dramatic difference. End-of-life care is also a big deal for me. Our profession often does a poor job of educating families and patients, so I like taking the time to explain exactly what the implications of a procedure or treatment would be as someone nears the end of life.

Why is simulation training so important, from educating medical students to sharpening the skills of seasoned physicians?

If you give someone a multiple-choice test, you really don’t know whether they’ve acquired skills or if they can take all of the information, synthesize it and come up with a plan of action. It’s what happens when you’re in a crisis situation, whether you can deal with that crisis and whether you’re a team player that makes the difference in medicine. Simulation training addresses all of that. It’s a critical component of medical education, and it’s vital for patient safety.

Have there been instances when you knew simulation training paid off?

There are many rare events that are ideal to practice in a simulation setting. We had simulation training that included a malignant hyperthermia drill at Children’s Hospital, and then what happens? They get one of these cases in an OR. The team ran their response like clockwork, and a little boy’s life was saved.

What is your personal educational philosophy?

My overarching goal as a teacher is to generate energy, curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. I try to always be willing to laugh at myself and have fun, and if I don’t know the answer, then I learn along with my students. I believe variation in teaching style and method encourages interest and addresses differing learner needs.

Who were the mentors who have most influenced your path?

There are so many I could name. When I came to Vanderbilt, I was lucky to find Pratik Pandharipande, who has been my friend/philosopher/guide. He has more than shaped my career. He was my fellow when I was a PGY-2. Now, he’s chief of Critical Care Anesthesiology. And Matthew Weinger, a key architect of our simulation program, has given me a lot of academic liberty and opportunity and helped me grow. I owe my role in simulation training to him.