Harvard Faculty Development Conference

By Gerard Rabalais, M.D.

Inspiring. Enlightening. Practical. Innovative. These were among the words the 120 attendees used to describe the two-day symposium on better teaching sponsored by the School of Medicine in January to launch the new faculty development program. Thanks to support from Dean Toni Ganzel and the Gross Family Lectureship Fund, UofL faculty heard practical advice on how to maximize teaching skills from two senior faculty members from the Harvard Medical School and the Shapiro Institute for Education and Research.

In the first session, David Roberts, M.D., associate professor of internal medicine and the inaugural dean for external education at Harvard Medical School and his mentor, Richard Schwartzstein, M.D., professor of medicine and director of the Shapiro Institute, delivered a presentation for those faculty interested in medical education as a career. They cited lessons learned from the recent overhaul of their medical school curriculum. Like most schools that have undertaken major curricular reform, Harvard shifted the responsibility for the bulk of content transfer from the faculty to the medical students in the form of self-study and small group work.

In a second session, Roberts advised faculty to take advantage of opportunities to further their careers as they are offered, discovered and created. He encouraged career faculty to find a niche in medical education, to become expert in that area, and to write about it to get visibility as a content expert. He recommended the book, Practice Perfect, by Doug Lemov.

Sessions on the second day addressed the importance of faculty development, lecturing as performance art, helping trainees use feedback to maximize their development as learners, and helping learners use critical thinking. The speakers reminded us that learning is more durable when it costs effort, information retrieval is more effective than review, problem-solving is better than being taught solutions, new material put into context in relation to prior learning enhances retention, and spacing of repetition and practice are key to learning.

Schwartzstein shared that a traditional lecture that does not incorporate some form of active learning is the least effective method to help learners learn. Demonstrations, discussion groups and having the students teach each other are all more effective learning techniques. He pointed out that the first goal of teachers is to inspire, then to challenge and, least important of all, to transmit information. He tries to bring passion into the classroom. He asks “why” and “how” questions and waits at least seven seconds for students to answer.

Another session addressed the importance of feedback to encourage learning and to ensure competence. Roberts highlighted that millennial learners need help from faculty with context, prioritization, understanding and interpretation. Faculty do not need to provide content; students can get that on their own.

Finally, Schwartzstein made the case for inductive rather than deductive reasoning in clinical practice. He advised practitioners to “work the problem” and not be too eager to attach a diagnosis. Doing so may prematurely close thinking. The book, Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman addresses two different brain pathways that we use to solve problems.

In the wrap-up session, attendees requested a program to ensure that learners know why and how teaching methods are changing. In addition, they asked for additional help with modeling inductive reasoning to solve clinical problems and enhancing emotional intelligence in faculty and learners. They also requested a peer-observation program to provide better feedback to teachers and a culture that supports and encourages teaching and learning.