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October 16, 2018

Medical School lands pair of AMA grants to study student experience

A pair of $30,000 grants from the American Medical Association will support research into students’ experiences.

“The two grants are great opportunities for VCU to partner with the AMA and other institutions to improve medical education,” says Sally Santen, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean for assessment, evaluation and scholarship. “One project will incorporate coaching and individualized learning plans to improve wellness for students entering surgery and other specialties, and the second will explore inclusion and engagement in medical students.”

Stephanie R. Goldberg, M.D.

Stephanie R. Goldberg, M.D.

The first project will explore the role of wellness coaching for fourth-year students who are applying to surgery residencies.  A collaborative effort among four medical schools, the study is led by VCU’s Stephanie R. Goldberg, M’03, H’10, an associate professor in the Department of Surgery, and includes VCU, Oregon Health & Science University, University of Connecticut and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

“Physician wellness and resiliency is necessary to alleviate burnout and promote career satisfaction,” Goldberg says. “Surgeons have some of the highest burnout rates among physicians, and so this pilot project will focus on fourth-year medical students who are preparing to transition into surgery residencies. If we can show its usefulness, the program will be application to all medical students regardless of specialty.”

The project will pair students with faculty coaches in monthly sessions that guide students in areas like self-directed learning, professionalism and maintaining physical and emotional health. Each student will create a personalized plan that identifies areas for growth that could include understanding communication styles and goal setting as well as recognizing warning signs for burnout and what to do when it occurs.

In a second project, Donna Jackson, Ed.D., will collaborate with the University of Connecticut and the University of California Davis to study student diversity and engagement.

Donna Jackson, Ed.D.

Donna Jackson, Ed.D.

Jackson notes that a diverse and culturally humble health care workforce is a critical component in addressing the persistent disparities in health and health care in the U.S. While pipeline and pathway programs in and to medical school are essential, this project aims to address retention, wellness and the social determinants of the medical schools’ learning environment, an equally important goal.

“Medical school may be a journey through comfortable, familiar, friendly territory; or the journey of a stranger in a strange, confusing and sometimes hostile land,” Jackson says. “Unfortunately, students may experience alienation, isolation, microagressions, and the goal of this effort will be to validate and implement a survey that is a useful tool to provide a 360-degree perspective on students’ experience in specific courses and clerkships. Its results will help us identify spaces where students question their sense of belongingness so that we can work toward making those places more inclusive.”

The three public medical schools will collaborate on creating a holistic tool to that surveys students’ experience of inclusion/engagement at multiple times throughout the academic year. They also will evaluate the relationship between student inclusion/engagement and academic performance. The researchers believe the assessment tool could be used to prompt interventions to improve student experience and achievement and result in further workforce diversification and inclusion to better address healthcare disparities. Toward that end, the lessons learned will be shared with other medical schools across the country.

The studies are supported through the AMA’s 2018 Accelerating Change in Medical Education Innovation Grants Program that aims to develop common solutions to transform medical education in key areas like coaching medical students and student well-being.

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Updated: 04/29/2016