Amy Rabatin, M.D.: Automotive engineer-turned-physician receives Teacher of the Year award in first year on staff
“What?! That can’t be!”
When a resident emailed Amy Rabatin, M.D. (MED ’13, I1 ’14, PMR ’17, PMRP ’20), Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, to inform her she was receiving a Teacher of the Year award, Dr. Rabatin says she was speechless. “What?! That can’t be!” she thought.
Dr. Rabatin says she disliked school as a child and never really thought about being an educator until she was in medical school. “The teachers I’ve learned the most from are those who tie real-world experiences to learning points. That’s how I learned medicine.”
She cites Sherilyn Driscoll, M.D. (PMR ’94), Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Mayo Clinic in Rochester; Deanne Kashiwagi, M.D. (HIM ’09), chair, Division of Hospital Internal Medicine at Sheikh Shakhbout Medical Center in Abu Dhabi — a joint venture between Mayo Clinic and Abu Dhabi Health Services Company; and Karen Newcomer, M.D. (I1 ’92, PMR ’95, SPMD ’96), Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Mayo Clinic in Rochester, as important influencers in her passion for teaching.
“I hope to be like Dr. Driscoll in teaching and in the clinic,” says Dr. Rabatin. “Dr. Kashiwagi uses a practical teaching method that resonates with me. Another teacher and clinician who has had an impact on me is Phil Fischer, M.D. (PD ’99, Department of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine at Sheikh Shakhbout Medical Center). He is kind, celebratory and joyful.”
Dr. Rabatin describes her teaching style as agile. “Not everyone learns the way you learn or the way you teach. I constantly read about medical education to refine my skills and tool kit. I believe teaching is storytelling. I like to have a relatable story or a patient case to tie into my teaching to keep things practical for the learners.
“It’s rewarding when it all comes together and you see the aha moments.”
“It’s rewarding when it all comes together and you see the aha moments. When they bring me an article about a topic, when I see that I’ve sparked interest in a topic, when I see them think through the mechanics of a decision, when they bring me new knowledge.”
Dr. Rabatin says she takes care to create a safe learning environment where trainees don’t feel rushed and are comfortable asking questions. “You learn best when the environment is right, the context is right and the frame of mind is right.
“I’m an analytical person and am naturally a pretty rigid learner. I’ve had to learn to be a more agile learner, which likely has influenced my teaching.”
Dr. Rabatin’s analytical nature is reflected in her previous career. She studied mechanical engineering at Marquette University and MIT and had a seven-year career at General Motors. She designed engine mounts for medium-duty trucks and worked in manufacturing plants. She was tapped for leadership roles at GM, completed a master’s degree in management and then worked as a executive technical assistant with senior leadership, including during the company’s bankruptcy.
“I love seeing how things go together and how cars and trucks progress through the line,” she says. “I ran part of an auto plant and was tasked with motivating employees who were at different levels of engagement to make the line as efficient, safe and fast as possible. I think it’s important to make sure employees see the big picture — Why do we need to examine this process to make it more efficient or safe? It’s necessary to relinquish some control to the people on the line to empower them to make decisions that contribute to the goals.”
While Dr. Rabatin describes herself as a happy GM employee, but she felt like something was missing. “There’s a difference between job and vocation, and the vocation part — the calling — was missing. I had a Jesuit education at Marquette University and wanted to fit knowledge, faith and service into my career. I worked with an executive coach to help me figure things out, volunteered in hospice care and came to the realization that I am supposed to be an engineer of the body instead of cars and trucks.”
After taking prerequisite courses, Dr. Rabatin applied to Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine. She describes getting the acceptance phone call as a pinch-me moment. “I was in a meeting with a strategy team, and my phone rang with a 507 area code number. I ran out of the meeting to take the call. After the meeting, my boss asked me what the call had been. I had let him know that I was considering changing careers. He didn’t want me to go. My colleagues were in disbelief. Some of them are now Mayo Clinic patients. When they see how happy I am, they tell me I made the right choice.”
“I felt like they celebrated that I didn’t come straight from undergraduate school. At some places I interviewed, I felt like they weren’t sure what to do with me due to my automotive engineering career.”
Dr. Rabatin appreciates that Mayo Clinic’s medical school welcomes students from alternative backgrounds. “I felt like they celebrated that I didn’t come straight from undergraduate school. At some places I interviewed, I felt like they weren’t sure what to do with me due to my automotive engineering career.”
Dr. Rabatin describes her career in pediatric PM&R as being an engineer of the body. “I love thinking about how the body moves, why it may not be moving properly and helping kids at all levels of ability function at the highest level they can. It requires engineering solutions — MacGyver qualities. Children with disabilities are an underserved population, and I hope to be a beacon of hope, function and advocacy for them.”
“I still ask myself whether I can be as good as the many physicians around me. Despite any self-doubt, it’s incredibly rewarding to read the comments from the trainees who voted for me for a Teacher of the Year. I feel like I’m fresh from being a trainee myself. This award lights a spark in me to keep doing what I’m doing. I feel like I’m in the right place.”
Dr. Rabatin says her journey to medicine was an adventure and makes her unique in her profession. “I have to remind myself to celebrate the unique skills I bring to medicine. I still ask myself whether I can be as good as the many physicians around me. Despite any self-doubt, it’s incredibly rewarding to read the comments from the trainees who voted for me for a Teacher of the Year. I feel like I’m fresh from being a trainee myself. This award lights a spark in me to keep doing what I’m doing. I feel like I’m in the right place.”
Comments from trainees
- “Dr. Rabatin is only in her first year as a consultant and has made a significant effort to update our pediatric rehabilitation curriculum.”
- “She welcomes questions and creates a very positive, comfortable learning environment. She is respectful toward learners and is an outstanding educator.”
- “Dr. Rabatin is a compassionate, patient, well-rounded and experienced clinician who epitomizes Mayo’s core value that the needs of the patient come first. She goes above and beyond for patients and their families, providing an outstanding example for learners.”
- “She is a role model for many residents, a phenomenal addition to our PM&R staff, and truly an asset to this institution.”
See who received the other 2021 Teacher of the Year Awards.