Prize of Honour for Pedagogics 2019

Professor Torben Bæk Hansen, Department of Clinical Medicine and Department of Forensic Medicine

Torben Bæk Hansen is a professor at the Department of Clinical Medicine in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the Regional Hospital West Jutland in Holstebro. And as you discover after just a few minutes in his company, he’s passionate about his work.  

"What really interests me is how we turn talented medical students into skilled medical doctors. Our students are good at learning. We get the most talented students from the upper secondary schools in the medical programme. So in that sense we have the best possible starting point. But we have to teach them to transform their academic insight into practice and to communicate their knowledge to other professional groups and the patients," Hansen says.

He has spent more than two decades working with teaching development and pedagogical methods and he has himself conducted research into medical pedagogy. All while also becoming an well-known specialist in his own field of orthopaedic surgery – both as a practitioner and a scientist.

A little cold sweat is okay

"My approach to teaching emerges out of day-to-day clinical practice, and is grounded in clinical challenges. For example: How do I perform my tasks when I’m dependent on other professional groups, such as nurses and porters? And what if the patients ask questions about things like rehabilitation and prognosis and I can’t find the answers in our textbooks? These are the questions I ask myself and my students.  This is really exciting to work with, because we’re dealing with communication, empathy and care – that’s to say areas which a lie outside of traditional medical professional competences,” he explains.

In his opinion, a good lecturer is someone who has a clear intention with his or her teaching in a context the students can see themselves in.

“At the very outset, you need to explicitly balance your expectations with your students – make a kind of mental contact. So that we’re in agreement that this is exciting and important. And of course, it’s also a requirement that you as a lecturer are accessible. If you can do that and also succeed in challenging your students in a safe learning environment, then things can’t really go wrong,” Hansen says, and adds:

“If the students go home after a day of independent responsibility for patient care-related tasks without getting into a cold sweat at some point, then you haven’t challenged them enough that day.”

Authentic learning spaces serve as a kind of playpen

And challenging students is important. This is one reason why Hansen has taken the initiative to establish Denmark’s first pre-graduate student section at the hospital in Holstebro where he practices. In this section, the medical students –together with students from the physiotherapy and nursing programmes – have responsibility for eight beds with ‘real’ patients.

"We supervise the students in this special set-up where we can allow ourselves to challenge them with realistic tasks in an environment that’s safe. Here they learn about the organisation that they’ll be working in, while their own professional identity is simultaneously strengthened as they learn to interact with other professional groups. And that’s crucial for whether they become skilled medical doctors or not,” Hansen explains.

The award is also a seal of approval 

Torben Bæk Hansen’s enthusiasm about teaching and his students is obvious. But when the subject turns to the award, he becomes more contemplative.

"I'm really overwhelmed. Professionally, it’s a huge acknowledgement of work that I almost do automatically – and that I’ve done for many years. I suppose I’m finding it a little hard to see what’s exceptional about it. After all, there’s always something you can improve,” he says.

But there is no doubt that he is proud.

“I consider the award an acknowledgement of the fact that we’re going in the right direction with our development of the medical degree programme. And getting this seal of approval from Aarhus University gives me a little extra authority," concludes Hansen. He intends to spend the DKK 100,000 which follows with the award on visiting a couple of partner universities abroad for research and inspiration.


Professor Torben Bæk Hansen,MD

Aarhus University, Department of Clinical Medicine and Regional Hospital West Jutland - Holstebro, Department of Orthopedic Surgery

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