TCOM’s Academy of Medical Educators: An innovative approach to medical education

January 23, 2013

An ambitious and unique outcomes-oriented approach to medical education at the Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine is based on providing professors the teaching skills that will impact quality of medical care and the health sciences for decades to come.  For now, it’s helping medical students succeed.

The Academy of Medical Educators (AME) was founded at TCOM by Dean Don Peska, DO, MEd, in 2010. TCOM is one of few medical schools that formally helps medical educators refine their teaching skills, and the Academy is one of the most rigorous.

According to Associate Dean, Curricular Design and Faculty Development Frank Papa, PhD, who leads the Academy, "Few if any other medical schools have an academy this ambitious. Most are not as outcomes-oriented. If we continue this approach, we will be one of the first medical schools with a true 21st century curriculum among all osteopathic medical schools, if not all U.S. or European medical schools."

AME enriches TCOM’s already innovative approach, referred to as a "problem and task-focused curriculum," in which students use class time to address patient case studies rather than passively listening to lectures. TCOM students develop clinically relevant skills, and as a result, they consistently score the highest in the nation on osteopathic medicine licensing exams. The academy’s goal is to continually refine TCOM’s innovative curriculum, Papa said.

"We help faculty to understand current learning sciences principles and then apply them in the development of instructional modules congruent with those principles," Papa said.

AME also prepares faculty to advance as clinician educators, and it helps them develop education-oriented research skills that can improve medical education even further. The academy offers graduate-level course work that leads to a formal certificate in Higher Education. The approximately 30 AME participants meet four hours per week and are exempted from a component of their patient-care responsibilities so they have time to focus on curricular design and implementation, self-study and educational research.

Simply put, "we have consciously and carefully departed from traditional approaches to medical education and are now 12 years into the development of a learning-sciences based medical curriculum," Papa said. "In another 10 years we will be nationally and internationally recognized as the authors of one of the first, learning sciences-based medical curricular models. This approach to medical education will improve both the competencies of medical students and the care they provide their patients."

He noted that TCOM’s approach to differential diagnosis assumes that most human diseases lack sufficient signs and symptoms for a physician to make a reliably accurate diagnosis at the bedside.

"Therefore, differential diagnosis is a high-stakes game of imprecision," Papa said. "How can you try to be certain when both the diseases, and, the knowledge base and processes underlying differential diagnosis, are ill-defined? Given the inevitability of diagnostic errors, we are trying to reduce the amount of necessary fallibility associated with medical care in general and differential diagnosis in particular. We need to be well prepared in our efforts to help students’ formulate reliable yet still probability-based judgments when diagnosing these ill-defined illnesses.

"Medical education is about the process of transforming brain tissue into minds. Medical education forms a medical mind out of what the student brings to the table. Learning is about the continual modification of our minds – whether you’re the dean, a faculty member or a student."

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