A Higher Degree of Education
Date: October 5, 2012
It’s a persistent question for faculty members: To be most effective, how much emotional distance should teachers keep from their students?
“We’re gatekeepers who are responsible to our professions as well as our students,” answers professor Toni Ungaretti, assistant dean in the Johns Hopkins School of Education. “You can be friendly, but you have a responsibility to get your learners where they need to go.”
She is speaking to a dozen students gathered in the Simulation Center at the Johns Hopkins Outpatient Center after a long day of work. These health care professionals—physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists and physical therapists—are learning how to become better teachers. They belong to the first class of The Johns Hopkins University’s Master of Education in the Health Professions program. The goal of this part-time course of study is to help health care providers teach more effectively in degree and training programs related to medicine, public health, nursing and other health professions.
Offered through Hopkins’ school of education and directed by Ungaretti, the program was created collaboratively by faculty at the university’s schools of medicine, public health, nursing, education and business. It carries particular value to members of the medical school faculty who seek to improve their teaching and produce the scholarly work that can build their reputations as clinician educators.
“Most of our school of medicine faculty come to us through their professional or scientific careers and have not had time to learn the background of educational theory and methods. This provides that opportunity,” says Patricia Thomas, associate dean for curriculum in the school of medicine, who also teaches in the program. “Because Hopkins does not have a clinician educator track for promotion, it’s hard for faculty to understand how they can develop national and international leadership as educators. This is a great mechanism for them to start that process.”
James Dunn Jr., long-time director of the Wilmer Eye Institute residency program, says it is often assumed, wrongly, that skilled clinicians are equally as good at teaching. He credits the MEHP program with expanding his own teaching approaches.
“It comes down to matching up the right teaching style with learning style,” he says. “As a surgeon, you would never teach your medical residents that there’s only one way to do something. So it doesn’t make sense to say we’re only going to teach one way or learn in one way. As students’ backgrounds become more diverse, teaching styles also must become increasingly diverse.”
The program developed through a committee chaired by John Flynn, clinical director of the Division of General Internal Medicine, and Lisa Heiser, the late assistant dean for faculty development. In 2010, then-University Provost Lloyd Minor approved the program proposal, and classes began last September.
The program offers an 18-credit certificate in evidence-based teaching in the health professions that covers such topics as adult learning, curriculum development, teaching methods, and assessment and evaluation. To earn the master’s degree—another 15 credits—students must complete a “publication-quality” project in educational research or leadership. Tuition is $3,600 for a three-credit course ($2,100 for Hopkins employees.) The certificate requires two years; the master’s requires four.
Steve Bonawitz, an assistant professor of plastic and reconstructive surgery, worked in private practice for 15 years before deciding to fulfill his desire to teach. He believes that the changing landscape of health care makes it ever more important to improve the educational experience and professional commitment of new providers.
“It’s critical that we assess how we are training and teaching people” he says. “We’re important stakeholders in medicine, and we’ve been ceding a lot of that in recent years to insurance companies, regulators and the government. We need to maintain our stake for the sake of the patients, and part of that involves how we educate the next generation.”
He particularly enjoys how classroom discussions with nurses and allied health professionals generate opinions he doesn’t always agree with. “That’s how you learn: Listening to other viewpoints and questioning your own.”
The inter-professional nature of the curriculum provides much of its core strength, says Ungaretti. “We purposely create small groups in class, where people cross their discipline silos so that they can learn to work together while also learning from each other.”
The 34 students who are entering their second year are still receiving instruction in class. All new students, however, will take courses online. While the first students were virtually all from Hopkins, the second class demonstrates the reach of online education. These 25 students hail from Scotland, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia as well as from the United States and Canada.