Teaches the Teachers
Early in his career, David Rogers, MD, MHPE ’03, realized he was enjoying the teaching aspect of academic medicine and wanted to pursue it further. He also realized he had little knowledge of teaching methodology or educational theories.
To address those issues, Rogers enrolled in the master of health professions education (MHPE) program in the College of Medicine’s department of medical education. “I was looking for a grounding in medical education as part of my intention of making it the main focus of my career,” says Rogers, a professor of pediatric surgery at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.
Rogers is one of the growing number of medical educators who have sought training in the MHPE program, which draws the likes of program directors, department heads and deans from medical schools and centers around the world—including such eminent institutions as Harvard Medical School, University of Chicago, Stanford and the Mayo Clinic.
“People who teach and have education leadership roles have subject-matter expertise but may not have received formal training to function optimally in those roles,” says Ilene Harris, PhD, professor and head of the department of medical education, who also is the director of the MHPE program. “They need help in curriculum design, in instructional design, in assessment of performance, in evaluation of programs, and in faculty development to help their faculty improve their skills in all those areas.”
The MHPE program helps students master those skills. The first program of its kind when launched in the 1960s, it has become a reference model for the 70 or so similar programs in existence today and has been hailed as the gold standard for such programs by reviewers for the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
The program took a major step forward in the early 1990s, when Georges Bordage, MD, PhD, professor of medical education, became its director. He restructured the curriculum, restoring neglected areas and building up its elective course offerings. Bordage also participated in the 1996 launch of the online version of the program, the first completely online degree program at the University of Illinois.
As the program’s quality improved, so did its word-of-mouth reputation, and enrollment grew from 17 students to 90 by the time Bordage handed over the program’s leadership to Harris in 2003. Today, the program enrolls 130 students, a number limited by the need to keep class size manageable and ensure quality educational experiences.
“This year we had 70 applications for 18 openings, and two-thirds of them would have been fine [students]. We could easily admit three times as many qualified students if we had the resources,” Harris says.
The elite few who are admitted into the program have the choice of attending courses on the college’s Chicago campus or online. On-campus courses are offered mainly in one- or two-week intensive sessions during the summer. Online courses take place during the regular academic year, and those students also participate in summertime on-campus wrap-up sessions.
Students take five required courses and three to four electives chosen from more than two-dozen varied options. “The basic courses give you a really nice exposure to contemporary practices in medical education,” Rogers says. The electives allow students to deepen their understanding in areas of personal interest. “For example, some people want to get more skilled in scholarship and take quantitative methods [and] qualitative methods electives. Others want to be more skilled in simulation for instruction and assessment,” Harris says.
After completing their coursework, which usually takes two years, students complete a thesis, which they’re encouraged to base on an issue affecting their own institution. Rogers wrote his thesis on conflicts in learning groups, which led him to research conflicts in the operating room and how to teach surgeons to handle those situations better, a line of inquiry he’s pursued for the past decade.
Other students currently are conducting thesis research on topics such as how educators can respond when a surgical resident freezes up during an operation, and how to assess the multiple competencies required to perform clinical procedures.
“In addition to being leaders, we want them to be scholars. We expect that they’ll go on and [do] research and publish,” says Bordage, who teaches the program’s required course on scholarship and chairs many students’ thesis committees. “Every month, there are articles by our students and graduates in the leading journals in the field, a clear sign that we’ve succeeded.”
Terry Wolpaw, MD, MHPE ’08, associate dean for curricular affairs at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, credits the program with helping guide her through a curriculum revision at the school. “It gave me a knowledge base and a conceptual framework for what I was doing that I would not have otherwise,” she says. “The whole way of carrying through a large curriculum change was something I was better able to do because of all my coursework, not only in curriculum design but also leadership.”
Bordage notes that providing medical education leaders with this sort of foundation for decision-making is one of the key ways the MHPE program makes an impact. “It gives institutions people who can bring in new ideas that are well grounded,” he says. “When they go back to their institutions, our graduates know the scholarly literature. They know what’s already been done. They’re not going to start doing things that have been shown not to work.”
Harris observes that equipping MHPE students to improve the quality of education at their institutions leads, in turn, to better educated and trained medical students and residents. “Our aim is to prepare excellent physicians,” she says, “and our ultimate aim is to improve health care in the community.”