Spotlight on Innovation post by Toni L. Johnson, MD, clinical associate professor and residency program director in the department of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. Appeared in the May 2015 AMA MedEd Update, a monthly medical education newsletter.

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Why would a busy physician voluntarily go back to school?

This is the question I asked myself as I considered applying to the Teachers of Quality Academy (TQA), a faculty development program that is part of the Redesigning Education to Accelerate Change in Healthcare (REACH) Initiative at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. After all, wasn’t I already a quality teacher?

But I couldn’t deny the frustration I had developed over the years when witnessing the mismatch between what we teach medical students and what they really need to know to practice medicine most effectively today. So when I learned one of the primary goals of REACH, in addition to faculty development, is to develop a new curriculum that will better prepare physicians to work and lead within our evolving health care system, I was sold. I went back to school!

I joined the Teachers of Quality with 26 other health sciences and clinical faculty from the Brody School of Medicine and the College of Allied Health, who like me, were interested in learning how to teach patient safety and quality improvement concepts and model them in our clinical work. We spent 15 months developing the knowledge and skills to practice and teach patient safety, quality improvement and population health through completion of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Open School online certificate—six two-day learning sessions and development and implementation of an applied quality improvement project in the clinical area of our choosing.

We also enrolled in three graduate courses in medical education, which included learning how to teach the adult learner, instructional strategies and program evaluation. As members of interprofessional teams we broadened our ability to develop curricula and began to explore better ways to prepare future health care providers.

For many of us, this experience filled in gaps of knowledge missing from our own education. I was excited by the immediate impact of the learning activities. It seemed as soon as I learned a new concept in quality improvement, I was able to apply it to patient care and incorporate it into teaching. Rather than “see one, do one, teach one,” this was more like the “see one, teach one” approach. There is an urgency to transform what and how we teach.

One of the highlights for me was participating in the first Brody Medical Education Day, a half-day event sponsored by the REACH Initiative in April. This event brought together faculty and students to share innovations in curriculum and teaching, educational research and medical education leadership. Faculty across the health science campus joined together to showcase their scholarly work related to medical education.

As part of our graduate coursework, the TQA fellows developed educational projects that could be used to enhance the Brody curriculum. Medical Education Day was the perfect venue to present my educational project, “Poverty, privilege and professionalism: A consideration of resources with problem-based learning." The major goal in this learning activity is to promote the development of professionalism by engaging learners in small group, problem-based learning using case vignettes with a patient or family living in poverty. This type of experiential learning can be used with interprofessional groups and engages learners with the real-world challenges of patient care.

My experience of “going back to school” taught me that we truly are never too old to learn, we learn best by solving problems, and that leading change can be an invigorating and exciting endeavor.

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