Educators of the Year

Renaissance Curriculum Team 600x400Renaissance Curriculum Team 

University of Maryland School of Medicine

(In photo, from left: Norman Retener, Olga Ioffe, Devang Patel, Philip Dittmar, Donna Parker, Constance Lacap, Nirav Shah, Joseph Martinez, Sandra Quezada. Not pictured: Kerri Thom.)

It was already a daunting task: Revamp the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s (UMSOM) curriculum for the first time in 25 years. Then months before the curriculum would launch, a global pandemic and the country’s reckoning with systemic racism added more challenges. But this did not stop a team of educators from meeting the goal of providing UMSOM students with a modern curriculum.

When the school embarked on the revisions three years ago, the curriculum team consulted with 100 UMSOM educators, residents, and students to develop its mission, which is to train the Renaissance Physician: lifelong learners who are clinically excellent and possess humanism, professionalism, scholarship, leadership, critical thinking, and attention to social justice and diversity.

The team spoke with colleagues at 20 institutions and studied curricula and best practices across the country. It recognized the importance of identifying the environment and values that contribute to making UMSOM excellent in biomedical education, basic and clinical research, and quality patient care and service.

And the members of the Renaissance Curriculum Team — Philip Dittmar, MD; Olga Ioffe, MD; Constance Lacap, DO; Joseph Martinez, MD; Donna Parker, MD, FACP; Devang Patel, MD; Sandra Quezada, MD, MS; Norman Retener, MD; Nirav Shah, MD; and Kerri Thom, MD, MS — are being recognized as the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) 2021 Educators of the Year for their work.

James B. Kaper, PhD, vice dean for academic affairs, UMSOM, praised their efforts.

“The curriculum revision was not just some ‘tinkering around the edges,’ but a complete revision starting from the ground up. The faculty team took this on as an additional project above and beyond their baseline work,” he said.

The team spent countless hours brainstorming and implementing new methodologies and met with the UMB Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning (FCTL) to implement team-based learning (TBL), which improves communication and problem-solving skills within teams of students.

“Team-based learning specifically and active learning in general are wonderful ways to engage students in their own education,” said Parker, senior associate dean for undergraduate medical education, UMSOM. “Learners are easily able to retrieve data and information quickly from a variety of sources in 2021, so our role has become even more about teaching them how to assess which information is the most accurate, and how to apply that information into patient care. Having students work together to problem-solve with faculty supervision is a great way to teach them to think like physicians.”

One big change to the curriculum is in the preclerkship phase. The team shortened and developed it into a combination of lectures, small-group discussions, laboratory sessions, and clinical correlates centered around a patient and/or family affected by a disease.

“We wanted to end the preclerkship years earlier to give students more time to explore clinical medicine and career opportunities,” Parker said. “In the clinical years, there were some important rotations that we felt every student should have, and we also needed to make room for those.”

Jennifer Drechsler, UMSOM Class of 2022, said she appreciated this new emphasis because it “allows students to truly explore what medicine means to them and how they can grow within the field.”

The team was preparing to implement the Renaissance Curriculum when COVID-19 disrupted clinical care and medical education. The team quickly and thoughtfully made changes to meet the needs of students, balancing education with the responsibility to protect health and safety. The curriculum was launched for the Class of 2024 in August 2020, with pandemic-related changes, including one most educators and students are now familiar with: Zoom.

“When COVID-19 was upon us, many schools would have delayed their curriculum implementation in the face of ‘going virtual’; however, the UMSOM team never wavered,” said Christina Cestone, PhD, executive director of FCTL. “They effectively implemented virtual TBL at the start of the academic year.”

The curriculum team directed faculty as they devised more than 30 remote electives for the clinical phase. The team also developed a course called “COVID-19: From the Bench to the Bedside” that encompasses the epidemiology and public health response, pathophysiology, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of the virus. And they did this as many of them worked on the front lines.

“We are internists, emergency medicine physicians, infectious disease specialists, epidemiologists, intensive care physicians — all the people whose clinical talents were in high demand,” Parker said. “Our team was simply extraordinary in their willingness and ability to step forward for both their students and their patients. We all helped each other get through an incredibly challenging time.”

Early on, the team wanted to integrate health disparities, leadership development, humanism in medicine, and anti-racism in the curriculum. Then in 2020, the country’s reckoning with systemic racism led it to take further actions.

“Increasing our attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion was already set to be an important part of the Renaissance Curriculum. However, our country’s renewed attention to systemic racism and its effects led us to do even more than we had planned,” Parker said.

They put in place a protocol for reviewing course materials to reduce bias and stereotyped language and added unconscious bias training. A “critical” step, Parker said, was enlisting the deputy director of UMSOM’s Program in Health Disparities and Population Health to address health disparities and racism throughout the curriculum.

Madison McGann, UMSOM Class of 2024, said the curriculum is preparing students to practice patient-centered care.

“We are taught to treat our patients holistically, rather than treating everyone as a textbook case. We learn about how we can be more humanistic physicians,” she said.

The team also turned its attention to developing new spaces for learning and raised funds to create a state-of-the-art learning space, named for donor Maurice Reid, MD ’99. 

Kaper said the team’s work is already having an impact.

“Word of the new curriculum has spread far and wide among the pool of students seeking to attend medical school,” he said. “Applications to UMSOM are at an all-time high — more than 6,000 applications, some 20 percent above the previous high. Based on anecdotal evidence, at least part of the increased interest is due to the new Renaissance Curriculum.”

Parker said the team was honored to receive the UMB award.

“We do what we do because of our commitment to the education of our students and our love of the work. To receive accolades for doing important work that brings you joy is about as good as it gets,” Parker said.

— Jen Badie