October 01, 2015

Harnessing the value of creativity, innovation in academic medicine

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There’s a single question at the forefront of what we do: “How can we do things better?”

It’s a question we ask ourselves for our students, for our patients, for our researchers and for the rest of the world. How can we take our day-to-day processes and make them more efficient? How can we increase the quality of patient experience? How can we evolve medical education to train the best physicians and scientists?

The nature of an academic medical center is an inquisitive one. That curiosity is what makes UAB special, not only in the Birmingham community, but throughout the state of Alabama. Because we’re an academic medical center and because we strive to answer questions that can have an impact in our communities, we’re defining the next generation of care through creating new care models, finding cures through ground-breaking clinical trials, discovering the mechanisms behind disease and diagnosing difficult diseases.

If creativity is being inquisitive about the things we can change for the betterment of our community, then innovation is the next layer. Innovation isn’t just about tweaking formulas, but being bold in our ideas and actions. It’s important to me that leaders in the School of Medicine continue to cultivate an environment that breeds—and celebrates—innovation, and I wanted to share with you some things I’m proud of that are happening in the School of Medicine.

Recently, Victor Darley-Usmar, Ph.D., and Casey Weaver, M.D., were named the winners of the first AMC21 Blue Sky Awards. In creating the Blue Sky Awards, we wanted our faculty to share their big ideas, ones that, if they’re successful, could have a transformative impact. Victor, along with his co-investigators, is going to explore the integration of energetics into personalized medicine, and Casey is testing a new technology for mapping and editing the human genome.

Colorectal surgeon Daniel Chu, M.D., and anesthesiologist Jeff Simmons, M.D., are introducing enhanced recovery after surgery (ERAS) pathways to UAB. ERAS uses modern, evidence-based techniques and collaborative, multidisciplinary teams to help patients recover more quickly after major surgery. Early results have been very promising with significant reductions in length-of-stay, higher patient satisfaction and improved teamwork across disciplines.  Loring Rue, M.D., and the Health System’s quality team are studying this approach to see how it could be applied to other services that could benefit, leading to an overall better patient experience.

The School of Medicine is constantly changing in medical education in how we train future physicians and scientists, from the medical and graduate student level, to residents and fellows.  The ways our students learn today are different than they were even a decade ago. We’ve integrated much more simulation training, not just for surgeons and residents to practice, but also for undergraduate medical student so they have a more tactile, hands-on experience before they ever see patients.  

The team in Undergraduate Medical Education is also moving the curriculum to accommodate more self-directed learning and team learning experiences.  The full integration of the Learning Communities—groups that allow students from all grade levels to interact in small-group settings—are also allowing for parts of the curriculum, like ethics and professionalism, to be taught in a new way.

The desire to be truly innovative means that we have to do more than just ask bold questions. We can foster an innovative spirit through diversity and inclusion and collaboration. We’ve made diversity and inclusion a primary facet of who we are as an institution, because we all know that value of diversity is by bringing together people whose varied backgrounds and experiences can challenge each other’s ideas.

The promise of UAB is knowledge that will change your world. My challenge for each of us in the School of Medicine is to think of how we can keep that promise by continually asking ourselves what we can do to do things better.