Medical Faculty Conducting research

If your medical faculty development efforts seem to be falling by the wayside, you might want to take inspiration from an unlikely source: drug treatment programs. What, you might be asking, do medical faculty and drug addicts have in common? The answer: neither of them recognize they have a problem.

Back when I was still young and idealistic, I used to work at a substance abuse research center. One of the grants I worked on was the LA SBIRT project, the SBIRT part of which stands for Screening, Brief Intervention, and Referral to Treatment. Through this grant we recruited detainees as they walked out the door of Men’s Central Jail, gave them a short drug and alcohol screening questionnaire, performed a brief motivational interview with them based on their results, and (if they met the criteria) gave them a referral to one of our treatment programs.

As you may have experienced with addicts in your own practice, while their addiction is usually obvious to everyone around them, until they actually accept that they have an addiction, any treatment efforts are essentially futile. The point of this intervention was to help the addicts come to the realization that they were addicts on their own, right at a time when they might be receptive to this idea (having literally just walked out of jail). The program was successful (by drug treatment standards), and SBIRT is now a well-accepted practice.

So what can you take away from this? While encouraging faculty to participate in faculty development activities is far less extreme than encouraging drug addicts to seek treatment, the mechanism is the same. You need to help your faculty come to the conclusion – on their own – that they could use some help with their teaching so that they’re willing to devote time and energy to the development opportunities you’re offering them.

If you’re just telling them that they need help, or that the tools are available, chances are you’re going to have a low participation rate. To help faculty become aware of their opportunities for improvement, you need to give them some insight into their teaching styles, ideally at a time when they are most open to it. You can do this through encouraging self-reflection, perhaps right after they receive teaching evaluations before they receive a new group of trainees, or right after board pass rates come out (if they’re lower than expected). Ask questions like “When a teaching session ends, do you feel energized? Do your students?” or “When was the last time you tried something new while you were teaching?”

To help with further reflection, we’ve developed a faculty evaluation toolkit which has questionnaires for you (or another objective observer), your faculty, and your students to evaluate a faculty member’s teaching. By sharing these three different sources of feedback, a faculty member can see the difference between their own perception of their teaching ability and other’s perceptions. Once faculty understand that they do, in fact, need to improve their teaching, you should have better luck getting them engaged in faculty development.

Need more tips? check out our white paper on keeping faculty engaged in faculty development.