As innovations in medical education continue to advance, training for faculty members often lags, with most training taking place on the job and with very little formal curriculum. A new study provides insights into what medical education fellowships should entail and explains why this training should take place before physicians assume the responsibilities of faculty appointments.

Many medical schools offer formal development programs for existing faculty. But the lack of a standard model and curriculum for training academic physicians troubles directors of existing medical education programs, who believe standardization could improve teaching and scholarship.

A research report in the journal Academic Medicine concludes that “medical education fellowships cultivate leaders and communities of trained educators.” The need for rigorous training is especially important amid innovations in teaching methods and training curriculum, researchers said.

The report relied on interviews with eight directors of existing faculty education programs.

Creating a core of faculty leaders

Directors noted that most faculty learn on the job while balancing competing demands of patient care and other clinical duties. The study also found that few programs are available to allow those who are interested in pursuing a career as an academic physician to undergo formal training in education before assuming faculty duties.

Directors of existing programs told researchers they have ambitious hopes for graduates of education fellowship programs. They envision graduates:

  • Assuming leadership roles
  • Pursuing an academic career
  • Producing scholarship
  • Achieving national prominence in their fields

“The whole idea is to change the culture one person at a time,” one program director told researchers.

Fellows currently face competing demands

The most troubling drawback of existing education programs that train physicians who already are faculty members is participants being pulled away from faculty training to tackle other duties, directors said. This happens even when medical schools have promised to allow fellows the freedom to devote a certain amount of their time to their training in education.

“People have committed to coming, but people are leaving because they get called back to cover an emergency patient or something has happened,” a director said. “I think that particularly for new faculty, their academic work takes a back seat to their patient care. I think there are times that they haven’t devoted their time and attention to the fellowship due to busy clinic schedules and various issues that come up in patient care activities.”

These findings informed the researchers’ recommendation that medical education fellowship training should occur before initial faculty appointment.

Establishing a new training program

Program directors promoted the idea of establishing new faculty training fellowships in medical schools that do not have them. After interviewing directors, the researchers identified four guidelines for success in creating new programs:

  • Define the goals and objectives for the new program
  • Evaluate best practices and choose those that fit local needs
  • Enlist the support of institutional leaders
  • Protect fellows’ time for training by releasing them from some of their clinical demands

The consensus among the eight program directors was that expanded, improved and standardized faculty education could revolutionize teaching and create a generation of skilled, inspired scholars, educators and leaders.

“Everybody says when they leave the program, they feel reinvigorated, reenergized and connected with people who love to teach,” the director of an existing program said. “It’s really an antidote to burnout.”

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