Accelerating Change in Medical Education

How schools, students are transforming med ed--and now you can too

If you could launch your dream project to better prepare medical students for practice, what would it be? A progressive initiative wants to hear your innovative ideas and give you the funding you need to make them reality. One physician leading this initiative explains how.

The AMA has partnered since 2013 with 11 leading medical schools as part of its Accelerating Change in Medical Education initiative, which provided $1 million grants to each school to help fund novel programs that bridge the gap between how physicians are currently trained and the future needs of our health care system.

From overhauling curriculums to launching new training projects, these 11 schools, the founding members of the Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium, are completely reshaping the way future physicians are trained—and now they’re ready to expand.

The AMA invites additional schools to apply to join the consortium and collaborate on transformative projects that will prepare physicians in training to thrive in complex health care systems. Starting Jan. 1, up to 20 schools each will receive a grant award of $75,000 disbursed over the course of three years. 

AMA Wire® checked in with Susan Skochelak, MD, AMA group vice president of medical education, about this new application opportunity, the work the 11 consortium schools have already done and how the consortium plans to continue its success starting with this year’s exciting round of applicants. 

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AMA Wire: The consortium seeks medical schools that wish to join a “community of innovation.” What does that really mean? Often, when people hear the word “innovation,” they think of something larger than life. When it comes to joining the consortium, what truly constitutes “innovation” in this setting?

Dr. Skochelak: Innovation in the setting of medical education means a number of things.

It means trying new content—material that students need to know but haven’t historically been taught. It means trying new methods. For instance, “Does this content have to be a lecture, or can students learn it more effectively or efficiently through simulation or electronic methods?”  It also means trying new assessment methods—knowing how they’ve learned and if they’ve achieved what you want them to achieve. 

Innovation is a combination of any one or all three of those ways in which young physicians learn how to become a doctor.

AMA Wire: The founding members of the AMA’s Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium already have made significant strides in transforming med ed. What are some of the additional opportunities in medical education that you hope future schools applying to the consortium will address?

Dr. Skochelak: We’re hoping that schools that apply to the consortium can do two things: One is to try out some of the things the 11 founding schools have already tried. They may be able to implement some of these new methods at their schools—like using flexible learning plans, faculty coaches or training students as patient navigators. Applicants would benefit from being part of a learning community when they’re ready to go and will have [the benefit of knowing] what’s already been tried for two years, so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.

Then there’s a second group of schools that we know are trying innovations in medical education that aren’t already in the portfolio of things the 11 founding schools are already doing. We’d like to hear from schools that have been trying some interesting and maybe radical new ideas they think other schools are ready to adapt and they’d like to share. These new schools would be able to enter the consortium and not only benefit from sharing with our 11 founding schools, but the existing consortium members also will benefit from them, finding new strategies or techniques they’ d like to borrow.

AMA Wire: The consortium thrives on collaboration and sharing big ideas to create collective change. Can you talk a little about how schools within the consortium are partnering together? Are there any exciting projects consortium members are already working on that new applicants will help expand?

Dr. Skochelak: Our 11 founding schools have told us that the consortium has been the biggest surprise and biggest benefit of the whole initiative. I don’t think they anticipated the amount of value or fun they’d have with sharing their ideas with other schools. We have probably more than a half dozen cross-school projects that you can find on the consortium website, but let me give you a couple examples here:

One of the [larger projects includes] teaching students to be lifelong learners, so they don’t just memorize information and regurgitate it on tests, but they actually know where their knowledge depths are and what they need to [learn]. This style of [instruction] has been called master adaptive learning, so many of our schools are thinking through how to teach differently for this.

You don’t have a lecturer who gives you a bunch of information, and every month you take a test and forget what was on the test. That’s kind of the old style. What’s been going on here now at is that faculty become coaches, and they work with each student to say, “Here’s what you’re good at. Here’s what you can do well, but you haven’t learned how to identify heart murmurs yet, so for the next few weeks, this is your job. How do you think you’re going to learn it?”

Then from there, the student proposes what [he or she] thinks the best resources would be. So the whole way students learn in this new master adaptive learning approach becomes the way they learn the rest of their lives.

We know how to do lectures and those old-fashioned tests, but now we’re learning together across our 11 schools about the best way to produce master adaptive learners.

A different [project schools are working on] has to do with the use of technology and how physicians in training use the electronic health record and patient data on health outcomes to actually improve the health of the patient populations they’re working with. Many schools have been sharing ideas across technology platforms. Any schools joining the consortium can use [this information for their work] instead of having to start over from the very beginning.

AMA Wire: What do you expect to be different about this new group of applicants?

Dr. Skochelak: I anticipate the new round of applicants will have a greater breadth of ideas.  At the beginning of the consortium in 2013, we had specific goals listed in the RFA, and we were very specific about wanting the consortium schools to address them. This time, we’re not putting boundaries around what schools can tell us about, so I’m anticipating that the variety of proposed ideas will be great.
Another thing that will be different is that the consortium will now have 30 schools instead of 11 so the weight of the voice of that many medical schools together saying the same thing will make people really listen. If you have 30 schools all focusing on these specific innovations, it’s going to be kind of hard for other medical schools not to pay attention to that.

AMA Wire: Are there any openings for different types of schools this year as well?

Dr. Skochelak: Yes, we have expanded the eligible application schools from just MD-granting schools to now include MD- and DO-granting schools. We’re also really encouraging schools from locations we haven’t tapped into. For instance, we’ve expanded eligibility this year to include some of the new schools that are [just getting underway]. These are schools that may have received provisional accreditation from the Liaison Committee of Medical Education to start schools, but they haven’t admitted their first class yet.

AMA Wire: In an interview with NPR this year, you made a great point about learning among consortium members. You said that as more schools adapt curricular changes, the learning process continues to flow between students and faculty. Can you talk a bit about how many of the consortium schools are collaborating with students and some of the surprising lessons faculty have learned from this as well?

Dr. Skochelak: The students are very important in this process, and they’re surprising their faculty. For example, at the University of Michigan Medical School (UMMS), students organized and gave [feedback] on what was redundant in the curriculum. As a faculty person, you don’t always know what’s in someone else’s course or rotation, but the students know because they go through it all. So the students at University of Michigan got together and presented their administration with the full list of redundancies where information in classes was being covered more than once. This allowed UMMS to find efficiencies so they could put new material [into their curriculum].

The students themselves really want to be prepared for health care the way it’s delivered now with team-based care and working interprofessionally, so many students have asked for more experiences with other health professions. They’re asking for more experiences within the health care system early in training and have been real champions for the kind of education they know they want.

AMA Wire: Is there anything else you’d like to add for schools interested in applying to the consortium?

Dr. Skochelak: This application is really meant to be an easy process for schools. It’s straightforward with only five pages, and we’re really just looking for schools to tell their story. That’s why we’re not making it hard to apply. We know there are a lot of really good ideas out there, and we’d rather have schools get their ideas in front of us, so we can help put together the best portfolio of [projects] out there right now.

How to apply

Proposals are due Sept. 16 at 6 p.m. Eastern time, and schools will be notified of their acceptance Oct. 30.

To apply, submit a proposal for consideration. Also, be sure to learn more about the 11 medical schools in the Accelerating Change in Medical Education Consortium and the current projects they have underway and application FAQs.