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2014 Abraham Flexner Award for Distinguished Service to Medical Education

James O. Woolliscroft, M.D., University of Michigan Medical School


The visionary Abraham Flexner had immeasurable influence on the development of medical education in North America and around the world. Similarly, James O. Woolliscroft, M.D., has been leading medical education transformation for more than three decades.

“He has been consistently ahead of his time and often prophetic about the trends in medical education,” says George Thibault, M.D., president of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation.

Dr. Woolliscroft quickly earned a reputation as a pioneer in medical education upon joining the University of Michigan Medical School (UMMS) faculty in 1980, where he now serves as dean and Lyle C. Roll Professor of Medicine.

He was among the first to advocate for moving the paradigm of medical education from knowledge acquisition to performance-based metrics. To further this transformation, Dr. Woolliscroft designed, studied, and introduced a number of proven methodologies to assess critical learner competencies. For example, he led the development of 360-degree assessments of the humanistic attributes of learners in the clinical care setting, designed and implemented high-stakes structured clinical examinations to assess medical students’ clinical skills and a process to assess incoming residents’ clinical skills, and collaborated with the National Board of Medical Education to make test questions more clinically relevant.

“Throughout his career, Dean Woolliscroft has demonstrated a noteworthy ability to see the ‘big picture’ in medical education,” write his nominators Martha Pollack, Ph.D., provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, and Joseph C. Kolars, M.D., Josiah Macy Jr. Professor of Health Professions Education, both from the University of Michigan.

Today, much of the nation’s clinical care is provided in ambulatory settings—a trend Dr. Woolliscroft forecast. As such, he was among the first medical educators to champion community settings as core sites for training medical students.

Dr. Woolliscroft is a talented mentor who inspires in others a passion for educating. Under his guidance, UMMS was among the first major research institutions to require all faculty to maintain an educator’s portfolio.

Dr. Woolliscroft’s influence on medical education extends around the world. For the past 17 years, he has worked extensively with educators at four medical schools in China to implement curricular reform and continue medical education transformation.

Dr. Woolliscroft has served as board member for the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) and chair of both the AAMC Group on Educational Affairs (GEA) the AAMC Advisory Panel on Medical Education, among other posts. Honors for his contributions to medical education include the AAMC GEA Merrell Flair Award and the Society of General Internal Medicine Career Achievement in Medical Education Award. He is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine and was selected in a national competition as the first Josiah Macy Jr. Professor of Medical Education Endowed Professorship.

Dr. Woolliscroft received his B.S. and M.D. from the University of Minnesota and completed his internal medicine residency at the University of Michigan Health System.

Watch the video spotlight on Dr. Woolliscroft here.

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.