Scholarship in Medical School: Skating to Where the Puck Will Be

By Rachel K. Wolfson, MD, and Vineet M. Arora, MD, MAPP

When we were in medical school, medical students could opt to participate in traditional research at some point, generally the summer between the first two years of medical school, or during the fourth year. There were no required scholarly projects, semi-annual progress reports, or specific concentrations or tracks for students to choose. Some of our classmates took an extra year to do research, but there was no year-off forum, quarterly newsletter announcing student dissemination of scholarly work, or faculty with protected time to promote student research.

Times have changed. We co-direct the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine Scholarship and Discovery program, in which students can pursue scholarly work in a broad array of areas, including non-traditional research such as global health, medical education, community health, and quality and safety. We are not alone…

On November 7, during the AAMC Annual Meeting, we convened over 60 leaders in medical education at as part of the Scholarly Concentrations Collaborative. These educators focus a significant professional effort on the development, execution, and evaluation of scholarly concentrations programs: a medical student research component integrated into the curriculum. Some have programs in their infancy, and some have had programs for more than a decade. Regardless, all program directors seem unified around answering questions of program impact: How do we evaluate the impact of scholarly concentration programs? More specifically, what exactly do we want to evaluate? What are the outcomes of interest? What qualities and abilities define a successful graduate of any given institution’s program?

The starting point for these discussions is complex, given that the central question for all program directors must be, Why are we doing this? Scholarly concentration programs require tremendous resources, including faculty leadership of the entire program as well as individual tracks, mentors numbering in the dozens, and staff to manage and monitor student compliance with benchmarks and to administer and collect student evaluations. Understanding the reasons an institution might integrate student scholarly work into the curriculum is essential to crafting student outcomes to evaluate. They define the successful graduate and set the bar that students must clear in order to pass.

The program leaders were united in their desire for one outcome: that through rigorous, personal participation in scholarship, students will graduate able to critically appraise the medical literature for its merits and its weaknesses. Beyond this, there was more variability. Many institutions, such as ours, wish to prepare students to enter academic careers, with lifelong contribution to scholarship. Many institutions also want to enhance their students’ competitiveness in the increasingly selective residency matching process. Scholarly work helps set students apart, including publications or national presentations to further bolster their credentials. Through the collaborative, we hope to define outcome measures that could be used to evaluate the effectiveness across programs, in addition to specific programs.

In spite of the rationale for scholarly concentrations programs, the most important stakeholders, our current and future patients, cannot be forgotten. Regardless of whether patients present to a quaternary care teaching hospital or a rural clinic, they need physicians who can think critically about the available data. Our health care system needs scholars working to solve patient safety and outcomes questions and overcome community and global health challenges. We need physician–scientists working to understand and stop the spread of disease through novel therapeutics. We need clinician–educators transforming education to train physicians for the future.

Scholarly concentration programs help to preserve the pipeline of physician scholars to optimize our future health care system.  Like hockey great Wayne Gretzky, we must train future physician scholars to skate to where the puck will be.

Wolfson_RRachel Wolfson, MD, is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago. She is the Planning and Evaluation Coordinator for Scholarship & Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine, and leads the national Scholarly Concentrations Collaborative. She can be reached at rwolfson@peds.bsd.uchicago.edu.

hsbwkyz2_Arora_Vineet_ILVineet Arora, MD, is Assistant Dean for Scholarship and Discovery at the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago. She can be reached at varora@bsd.uchicago.edu, or follow her on Twitter @FutureDocs.

3 thoughts on “Scholarship in Medical School: Skating to Where the Puck Will Be

  1. The authors make an eloquent case for integrating research, education and patient care. “In spite of the rationale for scholarly concentrations programs, the most important stakeholders, our current and future patients, cannot be forgotten. Regardless of whether patients present to a quaternary care teaching hospital or a rural clinic, they need physicians who can think critically about the available data.”

    I would add that the shoulder-to-shoulder training and learning of physicians, scientists, educators across and beyond the borders of academic medicine makes it possible for patient-centered care and evidenced-based care to be one in the same.

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