“Having taken the online program has definitely distinguished me from other applicants because it underlines my interest in health professions education. I can honestly say this program is the single most important thing on my resume that is getting me interviews.” — Lucas Cruz, M.D., Health Professions Education Graduate
Lucas Cruz, M.D., Resident, Internal Medicine, University of Connecticut,
is now landing great interviews for a future fellowship, which he credits
to his completing the Certificate in Health Professions Education Online
Putting the Learning
Back in Teaching
It could be called the morning routine—that first formal learning activity of the day when medical residents are brought together for “Morning Reports,” a case-based discussion facilitated by the chief resident, with one resident selected to present the case. For many participants, it’s an anxiety-provoking experience that puts them on the defense—not a great stage for learning, at least that’s what Lucas Cruz found. He set out to do something about it. Thanks to the tools he acquired during the Certificate in Health Professions Education Online Graduate Program, he’s already making a difference.
Lucas, who is currently in his last year of residency in Internal Medicine, was skeptical at first; he’d never taken an online course. But as he quickly found, participating in the University of Connecticut’s (UConn) online certificate program turned out to be one of the best decisions he ever made.
“All of my fellow students were either residents like me, nurses or other type of healthcare professionals with an interest in teaching—we all have incredibly busy schedules,” says Lucas. “But the online format made it easy and convenient to participate. I also really appreciated the live web-based meetings on Thursday nights. I felt like a member of a cohesive group.” And he adds:
“Our professor, Dr. Tom Van Hoof, is not only very dedicated to his students, but he also practices what he preaches. I could actually see how the strategies he taught helped me improve my own ability to learn.”
Building as he learned
While theoretical concepts were introduced during each course, students were also given useful strategies for practical applications. And in fact, several of those strategies became the core of a three course project Lucas designed to help make Morning Reports more inclusive, enjoyable and based on real evidence for others in his residency program. As he notes, “I wanted to put the learning back in the teaching process by integrating new evidence-based strategies we were introduced to during the program,” adding:
“I could have done a project for each course, but by using Morning Reports as the common theme for all three, I built the project gradually based on the knowledge I was gaining about the evaluation, planning, and implementation processes covered in the program. The project completed itself, almost in an effortless way.”
Walking in blind
One of the key aspects of Lucas’s plan was to make sure residents would be prepared to learn during each session. “One of the critical stages of learning is called predisposing, which can increase the student’s interest, satisfaction, and retention of the activity,” he notes.
As Lucas explains, the Morning Reports format gives one resident the opportunity to prepare and present a patient’s case step-by-step. The participating residents, who have no previous knowledge of the case, ask questions to figure out the underlying issue. Throughout the process, the chief resident mediates the discussion and tries to help the residents narrow down the diagnosis to a few possibilities. Says Lucas:
“The resident walks into the session with no idea of what’s going to be discussed, so there’s no way to prepare. The discussion isn’t very rich, so they don’t learn as much. What’s more, it can feel like an evaluation of their participation, which can create anxiety and does nothing to help residents retain information. And worse, it puts them in a defensive mode.”
Preparing residents to learn
So how did Lucas address this issue? Among several other strategies, he created a pre-test that would be given to the resident one week before each session, asking questions based on the general topic to be discussed. This would ensure students were prepared beforehand without giving away the diagnosis, which would dilute the mystery and interest in the case. And Lucas emphasizes:
“The questions sent beforehand are designed to stimulate the residents to read more about the topic and understand gaps in their knowledge that might help them figure out what they should be looking for.”
Lucas also designed in educational strategies to encourage participation in a non-threatening way and continue the learning to help reinforce the information the residents gained from week to week. For example, he proposed that for four weeks, the focus of each Morning Reports session be limited to one major medical specialty, allowing residents to build on their base of knowledge before moving onto another topic.
The strategies Lucas created are now being implemented by two chief residents at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center. Says Lucas:
“The chiefs are very open to hearing my ideas and are now implementing them, one strategy at a time. They have already gotten great feedback from the residents themselves and are actually seeing that they have improved the learning experience.”
There’s been another big upside for Lucas personally. He is currently applying for a fellowship in pulmonary and critical care. Thus far, the interviewers have asked him about his interest in education and seem particularly impressed by his having earned the UConn graduate certificate credential. “Having taken the online program has definitely distinguished me from other applicants because it underlines my interest in health professions education. I can honestly say this program is the single most important thing on my resume that is getting me interviews.”
“Dr. Van Hoof was a phenomenal instructor not only in terms of accessibility, but he walked the talk. He showed us just what active teaching is supposed to look like, and we built on our skills every week. I had heard he was a fantastic professor, and now I know he is!” — Jeannie Dodd, Health Professions Certificate graduate
After earning her Master’s degree, Jeannie Dodd decided
to jump right into UConn’s Certificate in Health Professions
Education online program to cultivate the “teach the teacher”
skills she’ll need to develop and implement continuing
education programs for residents and nurses at
Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA.
Walking the Talk
As Jeannie discovered during the Health Professions Education online program, the principles of active learning play a key role in ensuring that materials stick in our brains. But she didn’t just learn the principles; her professor, Dr. Tom Van Hoof, continually used these principles to help his own students learn. “He walked the talk,” says Jeannie.
Jeannie Dodd grew up in a family that places tremendous value on academic learning, so it’s not surprising that she has an intense interest in continuing education. As Jeannie notes, she had the good fortune to spend her formative years as a student in the Department of Defense schools—one of the best educational systems in the world. From there, she headed to her local community college, then onto Rhode Island College, where she got her undergraduate degree in nursing.
For the past twenty years, Jeannie has worked in neonatal intensive care (NICU) units, while raising three children. “I knew I always wanted to advance my education, but I needed to put it on the backburner while my kids were young.”
Finally, the time was right. Three years ago, Jeannie headed off to the University of Connecticut (UConn), where she earned her Neonatal Nurse Practitioner Master’s Degree. Knowing Jeannie’s interest in continuing education, the director of the program suggested that she look into UConn’s Health Professions Education online graduate certificate program to round out her skills.
“It was made for me,” says Jeannie, who jumped on the opportunity as soon as she completed her Master’s. Just one year later, in August 2016, she earned the certificate. She intends to apply what she learned during the year-long online program to support the continuing education needs of nurses and residents at Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, MA, where she currently works full time as a NICU nurse practitioner.
Brain-based or “active” learning
“Made for her” is an understatement; Jeannie raves about every aspect of the program, especially how her professor, Dr. Tom Van Hoof, used brain-based learning tools to teach students the value of—and how to employ—active learning methods. “A great example of this was the synchronous classroom experiences during which Dr. Van Hoof used a meeting platform called Zoom that allowed class members to participate in Skype-like conferences called Zoom Rooms,” explains Jeannie, who adds:
“It’s like Hollywood Squares. Each of us had a square and was able to be on the computer screen together, all at once. While someone was speaking, the outline around the square lit up, and the student’s name would appear in the bottom left-hand corner.”
So how did Zoom Rooms complement the active learning model to which Dr. Van Hoof prescribed? Based on a specific program objective for that week, Dr. Van Hoof would assign readings from traditional theorists, supported by case studies showcasing the latest research from current experts in the field of continuing education. Students were given writing prompts on Fridays, which they would complete over the weekend and submit to Dr. Van Hoof. By the following Tuesday, he would provide feedback online. Then on Thursday nights, students were able to participate in a live discussion together in the Zoom Room. As Jeannie says:
“There was no need for him to do big lectures during which we would passively sit and take notes. We were already prepared to discuss the topic. He was actually following evidence that shows teaching material in a sequence like he did and ensuring students are prepared to discuss it, instead of coming in cold, is much more effective. He truly practiced what he preached.”
Different points of view
Jeannie also greatly appreciated the program’s multidisciplinary focus. As she notes, her courses included all kinds of health professionals, from doctors, pharmacists, and physical therapists to other nurses and even public health professionals. “When it comes to patient care, we are always encouraged to work in interdisciplinary teams. By being in the program with so many different healthcare professionals, I got a better understanding of their different learning needs, which will be most helpful later on when I get more involved with continuing education in my current job.” And as she emphasizes:
“We don’t work in silos, but sometimes it feels like we do. For me, being in a program during which I heard many different perspectives helped erase some of the boundaries of those silos.”
The value of critical reflection
Each semester, students were required to complete a project, which Dr. Van Hoof suggested should be something relevant to the students’ day jobs. The projects should also incorporate some of the concepts they learned during the course, with the ultimate goal of improving continuing education in the workplace.
Jeannie was particularly interested in a topic introduced during the program called critical reflection. “I had heard this term, but never really understood what it meant,” she recalls. “The program got me thinking about it and how I could use the concept as an active learning tool.” One of Jeannie’s projects focused on helping nurse practitioners and nursing students develop critical reflection as a learning modality. “The goal of my project was to teach them how to constructively look at the way they handle clinical experiences and determine how their experience could guide future learning needs and ultimately, help them be better at their jobs.”
As Jeannie noted, critical reflection was just one of many active learning techniques she took from the program that she plans to incorporate into her own work life as opportunities arise. “Dr. Van Hoof was a phenomenal instructor not only in terms of accessibility, but he walked the talk. He showed us just what active teaching is supposed to look like, and we built on our skills every week. I had heard he was a fantastic professor, and now I know he is!”
“I was introduced to theories of learning, with specific practical ways to apply the theories to medical education. These courses gave me the tools I need both to maintain future educational requirements and at the same time to dramatically improve the continuing education we offer.”
Marvin C. Culbertson, M.D.
“As Director of Pharmacy Professional Development at UConn, I was already familiar with education for pharmacists, but these courses took me to the next level and beyond. The independent project was instrumental in the development and award of several grants for an educational program that is now offered nation-wide.”
Jill Fitzgerald, Pharm.D.
“The strategies I learned helped me craft the adult learning products I use every day in my private practice. As a bureau speaker and CME educator, I use adult learning principles, curriculum design and evaluation tools to create an effective presentation. The courses were successful in teaching me those essential principles.”
Elena Schjavland, R.N., A.P.R.N, A/G.N.P.