Feedback to the Stars

Program Director’s Corner – October 2019

Feedback to the Stars

David Lieb, MD
Program Director, Endocrine Fellowship Program
Eastern Virginia Medical School

Giving feedback isn’t always easy. You have to make time to give it, and even when you do, learners may not realize that you are providing it. This issue is so pervasive, that many educators recommend you start any feedback session by saying “I am giving you feedback”! That said, giving feedback to someone who is doing well can be particularly challenging. At least when someone requires specific remediation in their medical knowledge or professionalism, you know what needs to be discussed and can develop a plan for helping the learner change their behavior. But what if someone is doing a great job? Often in our time-crunched world the impulse is to say “I am about to give you feedback – you are doing a great job!” and move on to your next task, knowing that you have given some great feedback.

This is something I’ve found to be difficult. It’s hard to give productive feedback when you aren’t clear what that feedback should be. In my search to do a better job with this I came across a great article by editor Amy Gallo at the Harvard Business Review (which by the way is a fantastic source for helpful managerial-type and leadership-focused articles – our library has it – yours may too). I’ll provide a link to the article at the end of this post.

Gallo starts by mentioning what I’ve already said – that determining the needs for improvement for a top performer can be difficult. She adds that these individuals may not be accustomed to getting feedback, and that this can make feedback sessions more challenging. They may think that they are perfect.  However, she notes that you are doing your learner a disserve by not helping them to grow, and everyone has room to grow. Top performers may have good results (efficient presentations, great medical knowledge) – but it’s how they get those results that is important. Is it at the expensive of good mental health and proper work/life balance? Or at the expense of good relationships with the other fellows? Gallo notes that the behaviors that may help a person succeed may be the same that may hold them back in a different situation.

You should start the feedback session by setting the agenda. Tell the learner you’ll be discussing their current performance, and then future goals and aspirations. You should then express gratitude for the learner’s positive performance. Don’t assume they’ve heard it all before – and certainly don’t assume it isn’t important for them to hear. Express that you value them and their work. Then talk with them about what their goals and aspirations are – and what they value. Maybe it’s a first-year fellow who is interested in a career in research, or a second-year fellow who is interested in becoming a clinical educator. Use the opportunity to determine what obstacles they face in meeting their goals. And ask them how you can help them to succeed and to meet those goals.

Gallo ends by summarizing her ‘Principles to Remember’:


  • Give both positive and constructive feedback to high performers regularly.
  • Identify development areas, even if there are only a few.
  • Focus on the future and ask about motivations and goals.


  • Presume a star has reached the limits of their performance.
  • Leave your top performers alone.
  • Assume your stars know how appreciated they are.

I hope everyone is having a successful interview season. Now go out there and give some feedback!



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