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Leading Change in Medical Student Education

Jun 28, 2021

Despite the undeniable impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on us as individuals and as educators, we have worked together to adapt and persevere. This month’s biannual School of Medicine Core Educator Retreat is a great example of how we are adapting to a new environment and moving forward with a renewed vision for medical student education.

Deeper Level of Engagement

Since organizing a core group of medical education faculty three years ago, we have seen a wonderful evolution among this highly engaged community of educators—now 171 members strong. The core educator community is responsible for producing a significant portion of the scholarly work coming out of the School of Medicine. Between 2018-2021, 102 medical school faculty engaged in education scholarship; 28 of those faculty are core educators (27.5%) who produced 22 projects and presentations (23%) and eight manuscripts (36.4%).

For the first time, the retreat’s programming was completely community-driven—by educators for educators. We had 28 presenters (22 faculty and six staff) representing 11 departments and divisions. Also for the first time, we had focus groups with faculty representing all roles to inform the event’s structure. At previous retreats, we tried to make sure there was something for everyone by tailoring sessions to one specific group, like case-based learning facilitators. That inadvertently led to silos, so this time, we made sure to select sessions that transcended roles and brought together faculty who may not otherwise have a chance to interact.

Virtual Core Educator Retreat, June 2021

Presenters explored a broad range of topics, including optimizing the learning environment through psychological safety; helping students develop skills in professionalism, communication, and teamwork; educational technology resources for hybrid teaching; providing students with specific, actionable performance feedback; and coaching opportunities for faculty. We also had the opportunity to hear about the impact of longitudinal learning from a group of enterprising medical students who, with guidance from their faculty advisor Deepika Reddy, MD, launched a student-run virtual endocrinology clinic to reach underserved populations during the coronavirus pandemic.

Renewed Mission Statement

Our School of Medicine faculty are invested in constantly improving and teaching to our mission. At the core educator retreat, Paloma Cariello, MD, Associate Dean for Health Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion, unveiled a new mission statement that reflects our charge and commitment to serving all Utah communities. This new mission—developed with faculty, student, and staff input—will determine our direction and shape our strategy moving forward. It provides a template for decision making across all roles and responsibilities. 

When revising our mission statement, it was important to not only address anti-racism but to also address anti-discrimination. We cannot ignore that we still have some serious problems with discrimination.

Our Professional Family

Faculty retreats are a good time for taking a step back and asking ourselves, “Why am I in medicine? Why am I in education?” Reflecting on these questions helps tie us back to our personal missions and core values. We all want to feel like we belong, we are understood, and we are cared for. As members of the School of Medicine faculty, we are privileged to be part of an incredible professional family engaged in meaningful, purposeful work. Our students and patients are also part of this family. We need to stay curious and model curiosity for our students. They need to see us be willing to learn and try new things.

If we remember to act like a family and do our best for our family, we will continue to reach new heights. We want to foster an environment where everyone feels safe to speak up, raise concerns, and explore—and feels safe to be wrong and be right. We should never be afraid to speak our minds in respectful and professional ways.

Guiding Principles for MedEdMorphosis

Earlier this year, the School of Medicine unveiled MedEdMorphosis, an ambitious five-year plan to re-envision and redesign medical education for the future. The core educator community is a driving force behind this effort, and many are serving on MedEdMorphosis advisory and working teams.

Using a sliding scale to indicate level of importance, we surveyed members of the School of Medicine dean’s office leadership, department chairs, and core educators to collect feedback on the proposed core values or guiding principles for MedEdMorphosis:

  • Build consensus
  • Focus work in teams
  • Communicate (listen, share, resolve, thank, celebrate)
  • Optimize continuous quality improvement
  • Always consider value (ratio of “juice” to “squeeze”)
  • Remember the mission
  • Do right things, in the right way, at the right time
  • Respect and support individuals
  • Embrace evidence, inquiry, and innovation
  • Think systematically

Transparent, easy-to-access communication was identified as one of (if not the) most important guiding principles. Other principles that ranked “very important” by our faculty include: embracing evidence/inquiry/innovation, doing the right things/in right ways/at right times, remembering the mission, optimizing continuous quality improvement, respecting and supporting individuals, and thinking systematically.

Understanding the views reflected in this survey is critical as we move forward. For instance, it was eye-opening to learn that some of our faculty place less importance on building consensus and team-based work. Next, and equally as important, we will survey our medical students to understand how they view these principles.

Core Educator Faculty Awards, June 2021

On the Horizon

At the conclusion of the core educator retreat, faculty shared key takeaways and identified topics they want to discuss in the future. It was inspiring to hear the passion and commitment to social justice and health equity for our community and the patients we serve, as well as equity writ large—from within our organization. Our core educators can help us move the needle on a culture of anti-discrimination by being mindful of differences in how we treat those who are underrepresented in medicine and how this impacts their sense of value and meaning to the institution.

At future retreats, faculty expressed an interest in learning more about student mistreatment and solutions for this ongoing problem. They also want to dive deeper into how we as educators receive feedback from our learners. If we are teaching them how to receive our feedback, how do we simultaneously model how we have received theirs?

It is exciting to be engaged in this pivotal moment in the history of the University of Utah School of Medicine. Many important changes in our approach to medical education and our roles as educators are well underway, and there is more to come. We look forward to a better, brighter future that promises truly exceptional experiences for all of us—faculty, students, staff, and patients.


Sara Lamb, MD

Sara Lamb is the vice dean of education at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Lamb oversees ongoing reform of the new medical school curriculum and leads the MedEdMorphosis initiative. She continues to care for patients as a hospitalist within the Division of Inpatient Pediatrics and a primary care internist in the Division of General Internal Medicine, while teaching medical students and residents in the classroom and at the bedside. Lamb received an MD at Michigan State University and completed a residency and internship in internal medicine/pediatrics at the University of Utah.


Wayne Samuelson, MD

Wayne Samuelson is the dean of medical education at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Samuelson oversees all aspects of medical education and supervises continuing medical education and health equity, diversity, and inclusion. He is a professor of medicine with clinical interests in the management of asthma patients. Samuelson received an MD at the University of Utah and completed a residency in internal medicine and fellowship in pulmonary disease at Duke University Medical Center.

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