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Exploring the Power of Teaching and the Role of Community

Brooke Bergen , Director, Public Relations
November 13, 2016

Laskowski, Kirch Address More than 4,000 Attendees from the Nation’s Medical Schools and Teaching Hospitals

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During the 127th annual meeting of the AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) in Seattle, Wash., Robert J. Laskowski, MD, MBA, AAMC board chair, and Darrell G. Kirch, MD, AAMC president and CEO, addressed leaders of the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals about the transformative power of teaching and the role of academic medicine in serving local communities.

“I believe that [the] transformative role [of teaching] is at the very core of all good education, and certainly, it is vital to our ability as a society to develop talented and skilled professionals,” Laskowski said to more than 4,000 meeting attendees in his address, “The Remarkably Transformative Power of Being a Teacher.”

“My own life was transformed by many wonderful teachers. They opened up new vistas of knowledge for me. These new worlds of knowledge were full of new words, new concepts. They were rich in history. These histories were full of change and innovation and suggested changes and innovations to come.”

“I believe that [the] transformative role [of teaching] is at the very core of all good education, and certainly, it is vital to our ability as a society to develop talented and skilled professionals.”

Robert J. Laskowski, MD, MBA, AAMC Board Chair

Professor of clinical medicine at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University and former CEO of Christiana Care Health System, Laskowski shared stories of seminal teachers in history—as well as examples from his own mentors—as he encouraged attendees to think of the teachers who have shaped their own lives, personally and professionally. Citing lessons from the philosopher and teacher Socrates, he noted the philosophy of challenging, questioning, and finding truth. “Socrates’s approach was to help his students discover truth for themselves, and he did so in an uncompromising way and at great cost to himself,” he said.

“We who are members of academic medicine aspire to learn, to serve, and to lead. We have learned to learn from others,” Laskowski added. “All of us, as teachers, have the power and responsibility through our work to transform the lives of our students. And as teachers, through our students, we have the power and responsibility to transform the world.”

In his 11th address as AAMC president, “In Search of Community,” Kirch reflected on his first speech, also in Seattle, about the need for a national recommitment to the three public goods of academic medicine that determine the well-being of our society: educating the health care workforce, leading scientific discovery, and caring for patients. Speaking this year in the wake of a deeply divisive national election, Kirch called for “healing our deep divisions” as a nation by rebuilding America’s foundations at the community level.

Noting that communities are “the building blocks of our society,” Kirch examined how medical schools and teaching hospitals are “transcending those divisions to tackle tough problems and build real, vibrant communities centered on our institutions.”

A powerful example is the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, recognized as this year’s recipient of the AAMC Spencer Foreman Award for Outstanding Community Service for its work exposing and addressing the contaminated water crisis in Flint, Mich. The college has a longstanding partnership with the community of Flint, and in 2014 established its Public Health Research program in downtown Flint. That partnership was critical to exposing and addressing the crisis. In partnership with Hurley Children’s Hospital, the college also launched an initiative to treat Flint children who were exposed to lead in the city’s drinking water.

Kirch cited several more examples of community-based efforts at the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals, including:

  • Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, which leads the Road Home Program, in collaboration with the local VA medical center and other partners, to provide support, care, and counseling to military service members returning from active duty to civilian life.
  • The University of South Carolina School of Medicine in Greenville, a new medical school and one of a handful of institutions that trains every first-year student to become an emergency medical technician (EMT). “These students gain early clinical experience working regular shifts as EMTs as part of an interprofessional team. But the best part of the experience is their immersion in the community.
  • The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley School of Medicine, another new medical school, which demonstrates its community commitment through a mobile clinic that travels to nearby areas where many citizens do not speak English and many live in homes that lack basic plumbing. The school is working with community-based health workers to promote health education in often neglected neighborhoods.
  • Florida Hospital Orlando and Orlando Regional Medical Center, two teaching hospitals that cared for badly wounded victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub tragedy. The two hospitals donated more than $5.5 million in services in the aftermath of the mass shooting.

Referring to the crisis of burnout, depression, and suicide in academic medicine, Kirch also emphasized the need to “strengthen the community inside your institution.”

“Everyone who works in a medical school or teaching hospital is subject to the same forces of change as our communities. We face the same pressures that lead to disengagement and social isolation,” Kirch said. “We need to be certain we’re caring for our own community. . . . We simply cannot afford to let our own colleagues suffer in isolation. More than ever, we need to be a community for each other,” Kirch said. “The AAMC is committed to working with you to bolster resilience and build cultures of well-being for our learners and colleagues.”

Recalling President Abraham Lincoln’s appeal to the “the better angels of our nature” during times of struggle, Kirch concluded by observing, “At each and every medical school and teaching hospital I visit, I see the better angels of our nature at work—strengthening community bonds with learners, with colleagues, with patients, and most of all, with the people living just beyond your doorstep.”

“At each and every medical school and teaching hospital I visit, I see the better angels of our nature at work—strengthening community bonds with learners, with colleagues, with patients, and most of all, with the people living just beyond your doorstep.”

Darrell G. Kirch, MD
President and CEO, Association of American Medical Colleges

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