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2013 Abraham Flexner Distinguished Service to Medical Education

Deborah E. Powell, M.D., University of Minnesota


Abraham Flexner’s enduring legacy for medical education has been a steadfast commitment to
improving medical education. The same can be said of Deborah E. Powell, M.D., whose more than 40- year career has been spent championing competency-based medical education.

Today, Dr. Powell is dean emerita and professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at the University of Minnesota Medical School, where her innovative spirit is evident across the undergraduate medical program. At Minnesota, Dr. Powell instituted the medical school’s Flexible M.D. program, an individualized model of medical education designed to be more adaptable to students’ career and learning goals. She also has been engaged in interprofessional medical education for two decades and has shaped the national dialogue as well as educational practice in this area.

Dr. Powell served as chair of the AAMC Board of Directors in 2009-2010 and was the first female chair of the AAMC Council of Deans in 2004. Dr. Powell has been actively involved with the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) for 15 years and now serves as a member of the LCME Council. She is a past board member of the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education and the Educational Commission for Foreign Medical Graduates, and serves as a member of the National Committee on Foreign Medical Education and Accreditation of the U.S. Department of Education.

As founding co-sponsor of the AAMC project Education in Pediatrics Across the Continuum (EPAC), Dr. Powell has extended her work on competency-based medical education to the national level. EPAC will test a new model of medical education by which students will advance through the program as they master competencies, rather than through the traditional, fixed-time model. “This pilot lays the groundwork for a true competency-based continuum of medical education and thus holds the potential of being truly transformative,” says Dr. Carol Carraccio, vice president for competency-based assessment at the American Board of Pediatrics.

Before arriving in Minnesota, Dr. Powell served as executive dean and vice chancellor for clinical affairs at the University of Kansas School of Medicine (KU). There, she started a professionalism initiative that led to the establishment of an award that now bears her name and is given to a graduating medical student who demonstrates the level of humanism and professionalism exhibited by Dr. Powell. She was inducted into the KU Women’s Hall of Fame in 2002 for her research on issues related to women’s health.

Dr. Powell previously served as chair and professor of pathology of the University of Kentucky College of Medicine, where she was instrumental in developing the Kentucky Medical Curriculum and was awarded three Golden Apple Awards for teaching excellence in four years. A leader in the pathology field, Dr. Powell is past president of the American Board of Pathology and the United States and Canadian Academy of Pathology, and past chair of the ACGME Residency Review Committee for Pathology.

Dr. Powell received her B.A. degree from the former Radcliffe College of Harvard University, and her M.D. degree from Tufts University School of Medicine.

Abraham Flexner Award for Distinguished Service to Medical Education

This award was established in 1958 to recognize extraordinary individual contributions to medical schools and to the medical education community as a whole.