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Education Vision for the School of Medicine is Outlined in Open Letter from Dean Reece

Monday, December 11, 2006

Dear Colleagues, Students, Alumni and Friends:

I am pleased with the initial reception of my first two open letters on our research and patient care missions. I am energized by the challenges and indeed the opportunities that lie ahead for the school and the university, and I am grateful to each of you for your cooperation, support and collaboration.

In this third letter, I wish to address the mission of medical education, on which this great institution was founded 200 years ago. Since we train the vast majority of physicians practicing in the state, the impact of our educational mission on the health of Maryland and the region is enormous. Therefore, as we prepare the physicians and biomedical scientists of the future, it must always be our commitment to provide medical education of the highest caliber at every level.

As you know, medical education is under intense pressure nationwide, particularly in the clinical years, where patient care increasingly competes with education for faculty time. Unfortunately, this comes at a time when the demands of preparing future physicians for the complexities and ambiguities of modern medical practice have never been greater. The impact of these pressures has been enormous, and education has become the most fragile of our tripartite missions nationwide. The University of Maryland School of Medicine has not escaped these trends.

At a time when more and more is expected of medical educators, time and resources for teaching grow more scarce. The shift of focus is now toward ambulatory care settings where many patients must be seen in a short period of time and the economic necessity of decreasing length of hospital stays disrupts the teaching process. In addition, the everescalating expansion of medical knowledge remains a fundamental challenge.

Despite these challenges, both in the basic sciences and in clinical programs, our gifted and committed teachers and academic programs in the School of Medicine under the leadership of Dr. Bruce Jarrell, vice dean for Research and Academic Affairs, are making extraordinary contributions to the future of medicine in Maryland and the nation. The work of these teachers is invaluable to our students and our society, and their commitment is inspirational. In order for our excellence in medical education to continue to thrive, I will ask department chairs to create and nurture a culture in which superlative teaching is honored and exceptional teachers are rewarded. The curriculum must be comprehensive enough to accommodate the variable career pathways of our graduates. We are seeing more nontraditional students enter the medical field, many of whom have interests beyond clinical medicine. Many of our students also have varied career interests in such fields as law, public health, politics, health policy and business. Therefore, the medical education we provide, by necessity, must be reformatted somewhat to accommodate the diversity of interests among the student body. Therefore, to that end, I will work with the leadership team to explore the following possibilities:

  • The School of Medicine will continue its emphasis on joint degree programs and thus expand its portfolio to include joint degrees with law (MD/JD or PhD/JD), business (MD/MBA or PhD/MBA), and with other areas where a masters degree can be pursued (MD/MS or PhD/MS) in health policy, government relations and translational research, to name a few.
  • We will take advantage of our proximity to the U.S. Capitol, to government, to the diplomatic services, etc., and will create within the medical curriculum options for emphasis areas, or minors, for students who do not wish to pursue joint degrees. Such emphasis options or minors may include government relations, health policy, international affairs, politics and government.
  • In terms of method of instruction, we are now learning that an integrated approach to instruction is preferable to a discipline-based method. There are also preliminary discussions underway about introducing into the undergraduate medical curriculum a research competency, where medical students will be taught basic principles of research methods, design and analysis early in their medical education. This educational enrichment initiative will be explored.

If our students are to achieve at the levels set out in this five-year vision plan, members of the faculty must commit to their own professional development, and stay current in effective teaching methods, modalities and technologies. I urge the faculty to take advantage of all faculty development initiatives and fully exercise the true spirit of academic citizenship. Furthermore, I ask that everyone become fully engaged in this extraordinary community of scholars by participating in departmental and school-wide enrichment seminars, distinguished lecture series and other scholarly venues of enrichment.

The quality of the educational experience is enriched by the composition of the student body; therefore we must pay particular attention to the quality, quantity and diversity of applicants to our medical and graduate schools and residency and fellowship programs. We must be active contributors to the national medical education agenda, and we must extend and share the benefit of our experience with the worldwide community of academic medicine by publishing our findings in the most respected professional journals.

In the final analysis, it is really our students who will grade us. We will be evaluated by their standing on national examinations, by the caliber of the residencies or fellowships they are offered, and by the quality of the care they provide their patients once their time with us is completed. We must remain constant in our commitment to provide medical and graduate students, residents and fellows with the level of dignity, professionalism and respect that is worthy of the profession we represent, and we must remember that excellence must be modeled in order to be taught.

The University of Maryland School of Medicine has long been regarded as a first-rate teaching institution, and we have a special obligation to see that this tradition of excellence continues. If we make the aforementioned our priorities, we acknowledge both our achievements of the past and our responsibilities for the future. I hope that this open letter series is helpful to you and leaves you with some food for thought.  All of your ideas and input are important as together we move forward toward meeting our goals.

As you reflect on this letter, please feel free to give me a call or send me an email with your thoughts. I don’t want to be the only one talking. I want to do my share of listening, too. In my next letter I will take a look at our finance and philanthropy enterprise, which is becoming increasingly more important in enabling us to pursue our missions of discovery, educating the next generation and providing expert medical care to those in need. In partnership, we continue in our relentless pursuit of excellence, everyday.

 

Sincerely yours,

 

E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A.
Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland
John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean, School of Medicine

 

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 Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA