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A Word From the President: Leading Change Through Collaboration

AAMC Reporter: February 2012

Which is more valuable—group collaboration or individual work? It is an intriguing question, and one that was debated in the pages of The New York Times last month.

In a provocative opinion piece, author Susan Cain argues that “people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption.” She cites organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham, who wrote, “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”

But what if, instead of creativity, we seek problem-solving ability? After all, medical schools and teaching hospitals are working to solve some of health care’s most challenging dilemmas, from ensuring Americans have enough health professionals to care for an aging and growing population to designing a care system that is truly patient centered for an increasingly diverse population. This is where the work of University of Michigan - Ann Arbor professor Scott Page, Ph.D., comes in.

As the keynote speaker at our December Leadership Forum, an event fittingly created to bring diverse minds together, Dr. Page shared findings from his book "The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools and Societies." Dr. Page shows through mathematical models that diverse perspectives do better in solving tough problems. In other words, “cognitive diversity” produces better outcomes, and we are smarter in diverse groups than we are individually.

This is in line with what we heard from our constituents in November’s annual meeting evaluations. You told us that you value the opportunity to come together with colleagues across academic medicine to tackle tough problems. As a result, you will see the AAMC making a concerted effort to bring our constituents together in new ways, cutting across our traditional affinity group silos to tap the power of your diverse perspectives.

A major opportunity for this collaboration exists in the many meetings the AAMC convenes each year. In 2011 we hosted 80 meetings, and more than 10,000 constituents participated in our 16 professional development groups. This year, seven of our affinity groups will hold joint meetings. The Council of Deans, the Council of Teaching Hospitals and Health Systems, and the Group on Faculty Practice will get together next month, while the Graduate Research, Education, and Training Group will co-host a meeting with the Group for Research Advancement and Development. Finally, the Group on Diversity and Inclusion and the Group on Faculty Affairs will convene in August. These meetings will give deans the opportunity to talk with health system CEOs about the alignment of new models of health systems management and allow leaders of Ph.D., M.D.-Ph.D., and postdoctoral programs to meet with research deans about the future organization of the research enterprise and workforce. And diversity and inclusion representatives will be able to collaborate with faculty affairs administrators about critical skills, policies, and promising practices for members to transform themselves, their faculty, and their institutions.

Another way we are spurring collaboration is by using technology to bring our constituents together online.

The AAMC’s new iCollaborative is an online service that features innovative approaches to medical education, care delivery, and research. One way this resource is being used is to support the participation of 105 medical schools in the White House’s Joining Forces initiative. The iCollaborative now contains resources to address the unique health care needs of U.S. service members and their families and allows users to see and discuss how other schools are better preparing future health professionals to care for this important patient population. I encourage you to take a look at the innovative approaches that our institutions have created for caring for veterans and their loved ones.

Another online collaboration resource is the new blog, Wing of Zock. Started by AAMC Chief Health Care Officer Joanne Conroy, M.D., Wing of Zock is named after the hospital wing in Samuel Shem’s book "The House of God." This blog provides a way for faculty, residents, students, and administrators from around the country to engage in the kind of open and honest exchange of ideas vital to the future of academic medicine. Authors are sharing best practices and success stories from the frontlines of health care about innovations in clinical care, community engagement, medical information, technology, and more. I hope you will take a look and follow the blog.

Online learning communities also are an increasingly popular venue for researchers to share and spread innovations in support of evidence-based, patient-centered care. In the near future, the AAMC will launch an academic home for clinicians and researchers engaged in clinical effectiveness and implementation science research called the Research on Care Community (ROCC). The ROCC will be a venue for peer-to-peer learning and dissemination of innovations through online and in-person collaboration.

AAMC Helix has been in place for more than a year, enabling our constituents to access a secure professional network of colleagues engaged in dynamic discussion and the sharing of important resources. Helix has grown steadily, with more than 25 active groups on the site demonstrating the increasing importance of online collaboration for the academic medicine community. As social networking technology continues to improve and we all become more accustomed to communicating through these platforms for our day-to-day work, we expect social media to play an increasingly larger role in our member communications strategy.

Ultimately, these tools are merely interim means to what must be our long-term goal—a breaking down of the silos that divide us and impede our progress toward transforming our health care system. Collaboration is hard work—but as Scott Page has shown us: “The same logic that shows how cognitive diversity improves the performance of a predictive market can show how including identity diverse—and experientially and vocationally diverse—people improves the performance of a problem-solving team.”

Darrell G. Kirch, M.D.
AAMC President and CEO