Going the Distance to Develop Physician Leaders

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media , June 13, 2011
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Medical schools usually partner with several local hospitals and health systems to provide residency spots for their students. But rarely is the distance between medical school and partner as great as the distance between Tampa, FL, and Allentown, PA.

Yet the University of South Florida College of Medicine and Lehigh Valley Health Network are enthralled with the possibilities: The partnership could be pioneering a new and much-needed way of educating the physicians of tomorrow on the importance of teamwork.

The program seeks to educate medical students in competencies outside their traditional clinical training. Students spend their first two years at USF, and then go to LVHN for their final two years to focus on leadership development, values-based and patient-centered healthcare, and health system redesign. Both institutions see it as a way to develop leadership among the future physicians of America, but LVHN also sees it as a way to bring “right-thinking” new medical talent into its network, says Ronald Swinfard, MD, LVHN’s president and CEO.

“Team education is part of what we’re crafting from the minute students start,” he says. Indeed, part of the interview process to determine whether a student is a good fit for the program at LVHN involves what Swinfard calls “behavioral event interviewing” to ascertain whether applicants are “emotionally intelligent” individuals.

“That’s the sort of person that is compassionate, listens to you, is not arrogant, and does not think they know everything,” he says. LVHN and USF have been working on developing the combined curriculum for almost three years, and the first group of students—22 at first with plans to expand to 56 (in addition to the 120 or so that make up USF’s typical entering class)—will start at USF this summer. They’ll transition for their final two years at LVHN in 2013.

So why are these institutions that are 1,100 miles apart forming this

For one, Stephen Klasko, MD, the dean of the USF College of Medicine, was once chairman of LVHN’s OB/GYN department, so he knows of LVHN’s accomplishments in quality, patient safety, and technology deployment. And both are rattling the cage of traditional medical education, which Klasko says “hasn’t changed much in 100 years.”

Klasko says the traditional education model for medicine is based far more on a student’s ability to memorize than on his or her creative or empathic qualities.

“When you’re in med school, docs and nurses don’t train together,” he says. “That’s like holding separate practices for a sports team and only bringing them together for games. This way, you learn to be interdependent.”

LVHN will help recruit physicians from the Northeast to USF, in hopes the program will “help retain physicians in our residencies, and we hope they will stay to practice in the Northeast. 

“Right now, students from regional medical schools take individual rotations that may be only one to three months. LVHN doesn’t have much ownership of these students and there is insufficient time for them to absorb the LVHN culture,” Swinfard says. “We want to educate students to understand that methodology from an early stage, so they produce a product that is imbued by the culture of LVHN.”

Philip Betbeze is senior leadership editor with HealthLeaders Media.

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