Re-Imagining Medical Education for Tomorrow’s Doctors

Author: Christopher Durso       

Not so long ago, Austin was the only major city in the United States without a medical school, and the University of Texas at Austin (UT) was one of only a few tier-one research universities without one. That all changed in the summer of 2016, when UT’s Dell Medical School opened its doors to its first class of students. S. Claiborne “Clay” Johnston, M.D., Ph.D., Dell’s inaugural dean and vice president for medical affairs, appears in the latest video for The Intersection, produced by PCMA and PSAV, to explain how the new school came to be — from its funding model, with local residents agreeing to a property-tax increase to help pay for it, to its mission.  

“Health care isn’t what anybody would like it to be,” Johnston says in the video. “Costs are so high. What we get back for that isn’t so clear. Compare the U.S. to other countries — we don’t do as well as we should. We should be by far the country with the best health care based on how much we spend, and yet we’re not. We’re middle of the pack…. How can we create a medical school that’s really designed around society’s interests in health — not in health care, but in health — and also be a real engine for innovation and move the whole system forward?”

Those are questions facing people who plan medical conferences as well. Watching the video and touring Dell Medical School during PCMA Convening Leaders 2017 in Austin this past January, Teri Jordan, CMP, CAE, chief meetings and education officer for the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO), found “three things I could identify that I think are different now in medical education than perhaps they were 15 or 20 years ago.”

First, Dell’s team-based approach to medical education, which emphasizes students working in groups to solve problems as opposed to operating at the center of a doctor-focused hierarchy. “It’s no longer a physician or a surgeon working in isolation,” Jordan said. “Now medical schools — particularly this one, but all medical schools — are focusing on the concept of team care, as are physicians in practice. It’s better for the patients, it’s better outcomes, and it’s also one of the things that is being forced upon them based on how they can be reimbursed.”

Second, Jordan was struck by Dell’s prioritization of physician wellness and “helping physicians achieve balance of life,” she said. “This is the way their medical school is constructed — with a lot of natural light, with natural gathering areas, with architecture which almost forces but certainly encourages spontaneous interaction.” At its 2017 Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer last month, SGO offered a walking challenge, morning yoga, and a fun run, and also presented research on wellness. “Because burnout is so high in all specialties,” Jordan said, “keeping physicians employed and in the business is critical to the future of health care.”

And third, woven throughout both Johnston’s interview and Dell’s education model, is the issue of reimbursement — especially relevant at this moment in U.S. health care. “Before with Obamacare, the ACA [Affordable Care Act] and what that did,” Jordan said, “and now again if the ACA is modified, repealed, junked, whatever — how are physicians going to be able to consistently continue to get paid for what they do? And how are they going to consistently be able to put a value on their procedures? There’s a lot of education happening around that now.”


1. Find out what others have done in the past and then use that information to avoid repeating old solutions.

2. Building community consensus can be critical to the success of an innovative product.

3. Examine what value you are providing with your product or service to make sure it matches the need.

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