Dr. Sandro Pinheiro: Medical Mentor

By Dennis Graham on June 24, 2019

When Dr. Sandro Pinheiro (M.R.E. ’87) arrived in the U.S. from Brazil with hopes of furthering his education and learning more about theology, he had no idea how difficult life as a Grand Rapids Theological Seminary student would be. English was his second language, he'd only been a Christian for two-and-a-half years, and he'd never seen snow, let alone endured an entire Michigan winter.

"Seminary was one of the hardest experiences of my life," says Pinheiro. "But without that experience, I wouldn't have reached where I am today. It all started there [at GRTS]."

Today Pinheiro is an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Geriatrics, a senior education specialist in the Physician Assistant Program and senior fellow at the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development at Duke University.

His interest in working in education was first piqued while in seminary, which led him to Michigan State University, where he received his master's and doctoral degrees in adult and continuing education. While finishing his Ph.D. at MSU, he took a faculty position at the medical school, which ultimately opened the door to him working in medical education, where he has focused for the past 24 years.

Pinheiro's current work is focused on training and mentoring clinicians to become better teachers and to develop their skills as researchers. He says the nature of a clinician's work includes a good deal of educating—interacting with patients, caregivers and health professionals working under them—so it's essential they develop strong teaching skills. In addition, he helps them develop sound educational programs, evaluate them and then publish about the work.

For the last 14 years, Pinheiro has further focused on the field of geriatrics, where he collaborates with clinicians in designing educational programs to equip medical learners to provide care for older adults. He also mentors physicians as clinician educators and scholars. "Caring for older adults is very complex," he says. "We don't have enough clinicians specialized in geriatrics, so we need to also train and equip those in other sub-specialties to not only better care for their older adult patients, but train other clinicians to do the same." In addition to teaching clinicians, Pinheiro helps them design educational programs and then produce scholarship out of their interventions.

When asked what he's enjoyed most about his career, he quickly points to working one-on-one mentoring and coaching faculty, fellows and students. "I grew up playing sports and was a coach, so it's a natural extension for me. I enjoy the opportunity to help encourage and affirm those I mentor and to watch them develop confidence in themselves as professionals. It's been amazing to see the opportunities I've had to make an impact on the lives of others. It's very exciting. Life has definitely been exciting."

About Sandro

Dr. Sandro Pinheiro (M.R.E. ’87) has worked in medical education for more than 24 years, directing faculty development activities for clinical and basic science faculty, designing medical and interprofessional education curricula and conducting evaluation and research in medical and interprofessional education. In the last 14 years, he has worked closely with geriatric faculty and fellows at Duke University, developing curricula in geriatrics education for medical and other health profession trainees. His research interests focus on medical and interprofessional education and the assessment of change in the teaching practice of clinical teachers. He is married to Joy Lynn (Babcock, B.A. ’86), and they have two children, Kyle and Elise.