October 10, 2011


Senior vice president and dean Ray Watts with School of Medicine students

In many ways, educating medical students is a specialty much like surgery, pediatrics, or another field of medicine. To teach medicine as well as to practice it, you need depth and breadth of knowledge—not only the fundamentals but also the newest discoveries, treatments and practices—plus strong communication skills, experience gained from lessons learned, and a commitment to improving the lives and minds of the people in your care. Education, like research and clinical care, also constantly evolves, challenging medical school faculty to adapt to new technologies, advances in medical science, and each new generation of students who bring unique experiences and learning styles to the classroom.

To be the best medical school we can be, we must anticipate these changes and continually refine our approach to teaching so that our students are fully prepared to meet the demands of a health-care career in the 21st century. Our recent investments in curriculum updates and classroom technologies have made the School of Medicine more interactive and interdisciplinary, with a stronger—and earlier—introduction to patient care and a greater emphasis on professionalism. Excellent teaching is as important to our mission as are research and clinical care, both in our strategic plan and in our daily efforts.

Improving Understanding

Dr. George Karam speaks at the education summit.

On September 23, our Department of Medicine held an education summit focused on enhancing teaching skills and strategies for clinician educators. Dr. George H. Karam, a former UAB internal medicine chief resident who now directs LSU’s internal medicine residency program, presented the keynote address. He spoke about the long tradition of clinical education at UAB established by visionaries like Dr. Tinsley Harrison and how it should remain the cornerstone of modern medical education. Dr. Karam stressed Dr. Harrison’s philosophy that thinking, listening, and understanding; humor and analogy; and moral and mental discipline should be more important than simply acquiring knowledge.

The summit was organized by Dr. Carlos Estrada, director of the Division of General Internal Medicine, and Dr. Gustavo Heudebert, the co-director of our internal medicine residency program and holder of the Tinsley Harrison Endowed Chair in Medical Resident Education. Both are fine teachers and leaders in our program.

Dr. Carrie Elzie, our gross anatomy director, offers an example of how we can follow in Dr. Harrison’s footsteps while successfully adapting our methods of teaching the fundamentals of medicine. In a faculty profile posted online, she describes how she uses art and music to help illustrate scientific concepts and increase retention of knowledge. Dr. Elzie says these techniques help students do a better job of understanding the relationships between the body’s structures than if they tried to memorize everything. (I recall that method from my own medical school days, and I must say that using music and art makes learning anatomy sound like more fun.)

Our new education strategic plan, which we will discuss more in the coming months, will support creative clinical faculty like Dr. Elzie, Dr. Estrada, Dr. Heudebert, and the many other faculty who have committed their careers to the art and science of teaching. We want to encourage and reward our educational specialists and supply them with the resources they need to provide the best teaching for tomorrow’s physicians, and to inspire the next generation of clinical educators.

Our Strongest Partners

Florrie and Craig Coe visit with Ray Watts at the recent alumni reception in Dothan. See a photo slideshow from the event.

I am proud that alumni remain involved in our students’ education. You are our strongest partners, and your support and feedback ensure that we are teaching the lessons that practicing physicians need to know.

In the next few days, you should receive a request for membership dues from the Medical Alumni Association, and I encourage you to take a moment and renew—or join, if you are a recent graduate or have not been an active member in recent years. These dues help support important alumni and student programs, including scholarships that help us recruit and retain the brightest students, enrichment initiatives, and emergency assistance for students in need. The School of Medicine will match each scholarship dollar raised through the Medical Alumni Association this year, so your participation can have even greater impact.

I also look forward to seeing Birmingham-area alumni at our annual reception scheduled for October 24 at 6:00 p.m. at the Alys Stephens Center on the UAB campus. The gathering is co-hosted by the MAA's president, Dr. Gerhard A.W. Boehm of Mobile, and we hope you will join us there.