UAB Academy Aims to Reinvigorate Educational Curriculum through Mentorship

Lisa Willett, MD with her mentee Max Thompson, MD.

In September, the UAB School of Medicine opened the UAB Healthcare Educators Academy. Led by co-chairs Carolina Harada, MD, associate professor of medicine and assistant dean for community-engaged scholarship, and Lisa Willett, MD, program director of the Tinsley Harrison Internal Medicine Residency Program, the academy establishes a mentorship for professionals new to instructing students.

"We want this project to reinvigorate our educational curriculum, and we expect to bring in some new teaching methods," Willett says.

Mentors serve a one-year-term while mentees work for two years in the faculty development program as they identify and implement ideas for the greater good of UAB.

"We wanted something to recognize and promote medical education and educators in the Department of Medicine," Harada says. "As we researched models at other institutions, we realized this needed to be an institution-wide program."

Launching the pilot project could have seemed daunting, but Willett and Harada received strong support from their UAB colleagues. "It has been exciting to see so much enthusiasm from the beginning," Harada says. "The minute we would explain to people what we were doing, they would get on board. That made everything easier."

Harada says junior faculty were as responsive to the idea as seasoned professionals. As mentees were recruited, they expressed an attitude of gratefulness that smoothed the way for the co-chairs to assemble 12 faculty mentors and 12 mentees for the pilot program.

As the program develops, UAB is working with The Academics Collaborative, a national organization with a reputation for excellence dating back to 2001, when the University of California and Harvard Medical School became early adopters of the academy model. Since then, an additional 60 medical and health sciences schools have established formal academies or academy-like organizations.

The UAB Healthcare Educators Academy has a steering committee of 18 that is composed of representatives from each of the schools and departments to ensure all needs are being served. After an initial meeting by the Task Force in February to determine the need for a core group of leaders, the steering committee began monthly meetings in May in preparation for the launch. With the academy now underway, both the steering committee and academy members meet quarterly. Harada and Willet expect individual mentor-mentee teams to meet more often, depending on their needs.

Harada's mentee is Heather Austin, PhD, while Willett serves as mentor to Maxwell Thompson, MD, a junior faculty member in the department of emergency medicine.

The teams have already targeted projects for their partnership and include Rebekah Weil, MD, a mentee from the Department of Medicine, who is working with mentor Jessica Williams, PhD, on developing a health disparities curriculum. Mentee Carleton Rivers, MS, whose mentor is Robin Lanzi, PhD, MPH, is redesigning an undergraduate course on nutrition and health.

"We hope these inaugural academy mentees will develop content applicable to their areas of interest that can be a resource across the institution," Harada says. "We want to be an inspiration, as well as a resource, to help mentees be successful as healthcare educators. We all get so busy in our daily work, but we want to be able to carve out space to help individual mentees and all of the individuals they touch. It can create a ripple effect across the institution."

Physicians spend years training for their medical careers, but often don't receive formal training when they move into a teaching role.

"Our vision is to provide our junior faculty some of the skills needed to become better educators and disseminate what they have learned to their peers," Harada says.

Willet says that is best accomplished through the academy's three pillars: teaching excellence, career advancement and professional meaning -- concepts set forth from the outset.

"The department chairs have been invaluable," Willett says. "They were willing to contribute financially to the program and many of them knew of faculty members they wanted to sponsor. They have helped us launch this aggressive timeline. Sometimes, projects like these can languish for many years before they get started. We are well underway."

The School of Medicine departments include Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology, Emergency Medicine, Medicine, Neurology, Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pediatrics, Radiology and Surgery. Other schools include the School of Dentistry, the School of Health Professions, the School of Public Health and the School of Nursing.


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Heather Austin, MD; Lisa Willett, MD; UAB, PhD; Mentor; Mentee; Mentorships  , UAB Healthcare Educators Academy; The Academics Collaborative; Carolina Harada, UAB School of Medicine


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