News

11.01.2011

Miller School Launches Academy to Recognize Stellar Teaching

It almost goes without saying that great medical schools have great physicians, great researchers, and great teachers.

But while bedside and operating room miracles often bring recognition and promotion to practicing doctors, and grant-funded discoveries often propel bench researchers to scientific stardom, physicians who devote most of their time to educating the next generation often have to be content with knowing their efforts help produce great doctors and contribute to making society healthier.

There is, however, a movement to more directly link the invaluable service of teaching faculty to the rewards and recognition they deserve. Following the lead of Harvard University and about 40 other well-known medical schools, the Miller School is launching the Academy of Medical Educators at the University of Miami to appropriately recognize and reward teaching faculty, and help develop junior teaching faculty into well-rounded experts. It is now accepting membership applications for one of three tiers: associate, fellow and master.

“This is a big deal,” said Laurence B. Gardner, M.D., executive dean for education and policy. “What we are developing is a home for and a focus on educators, which we have never had before. A lot of people have been working on this for about four years and we are finally at the point where we can kick it off.”

The academy’s official mission is to “support the educational mission of the University of Miami and the Miller School of Medicine by fostering excellence in teaching, improving curriculum, advancing educational scholarship, and facilitating appropriate reward, recognition and academic promotion for faculty educators.”

Gardner, Mark O’Connell, M.D., senior associate dean for educational development and senior advisor to the senior vice president for medical affairs and dean, and Richard Tiberius, Ph.D., director of the Miller School’s educational development office, led the charge for the creation of the academy, the details of which were hammered out by a task force of members from every department.

Expert teachers who meet the criteria will be admitted to the academy as masters while other eligible faculty could enter as associates or fellows. Members will select a steering committee that will appoint an academy director. Noting that “the academy is not a Hall of Fame,” O’Connell said members will be up for review every four years.

“Launching the academy allows us to have a vehicle through which we can add more legitimacy and validity to the educational efforts of the faculty who will become members,” said O’Connell. “But at the end of the day, the purpose is to support the teaching faculty’s professional development and growth, advancement in the institution, and academic promotion.”

The formative idea for the academy crystallized at a faculty retreat O’Connell and Tiberius spearheaded in 2007. Dean Pascal J. Goldschmidt, M.D., was an early supporter, and Sheri Keitz, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean for faculty affairs and associate vice president for human resources, has endorsed it.

Designed to complement the aims of departments, Tiberius said the academy will enable faculty to share their expertise and skills with one another and with professional educators, ultimately benefitting departments.

“Clinical and basic science departments have several competing priorities,’’ Tiberius said. “They strive for excellence in teaching at the same time that they must deliver exemplary patient care and state-of-the-art research. While our faculty has had extensive training in research and medical practice, they seldom receive training in either the practice or scholarship of education. Moreover, departments lack the resources for training their faculty in these areas. This is where the academy can be very useful.’’

Now that UM’s academy is a reality, O’Connell will, for the first time, represent a functioning academy when he attends the Association of American Medical Colleges’ annual academy collaborative this week. At the meetings, begun in 2008, medical schools with academies and others who are planning them discuss their need, function, organization and funding mechanisms, which range from endowments as high as $6 million to a few thousand dollars each year from the dean’s or other school budgets. Initial funding at the Miller School will come from philanthropy.

“We have designed our academy using the lessons learned at other top medical schools,’’ said O’Connell, who strongly encourages every faculty member who teaches at the Miller School to spend just 10 minutes to apply to become an associate. “Those faculty with a particular interest and effort in education will be invited to apply for the more advanced levels of fellow or master, depending on their accomplishments. But the resources of the academy will be available to all members, especially the more junior faculty. The academy will make our great education programs even greater!”

As it functions now, O’Connell noted, the academic system often fails to give teachers their due. For instance, he said, research on medical education is published in lesser known journals than scientific research, and time and funding for such research are severely limited. Faculty members who devote most of their time to teaching have less opportunity for scholarly productivity, in the traditional sense, and rarely receive adequate recognition when they publish it.

The academy will attempt to level the field by providing stipends for members to pursue educational research or projects and to attend education-themed meetings. It will also use an institutional system to monitor teaching efforts to adequately recognize and reward faculty for their educational efforts.

To apply for the stipends, educators will be required to show a portfolio of their work. One of the goals of the academy, O’Connell said, is to help educators develop portfolios of their achievements and outcomes, akin to the detailed ones researchers use to showcase their scientific endeavors.

The academy will also provide opportunities for senior faculty to mentor junior faculty, undertake peer evaluations and conduct faculty development workshops on, for example, the best practices for small group teaching and bedside teaching.

“The academy is here to help faculty members organize and formalize their educational efforts and give a stamp of approval that can be used in the recognition and promotions process,” said O’Connell. “We are looking to bring added value to the great work our teachers are doing.”

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