Breakthrough Conference on Reimagining Medical Education

Apr 15, 2016
Allison Mullin

Participants brainstorm at Breakthrough Conference. Photo by Brian DaSilva. Participants brainstorm at Breakthrough Conference. Photo by Brian DaSilva. Is it time to redefine the role of the doctor? How is technology changing the way doctors practice? Do we need to rethink the structure of the curriculum taught at medical school to stay on the cutting edge?

None of these questions have simple answers and elicited lively debate at last year’s Breakthrough conference. Hosted by the Department of Family and Community Medicine (DFCM) at U of T, the conference brought together 80 thought leaders from diverse fields — including medicine, education, design, technology, business, media, the arts, and government — to see what medical education can learn from the “outsider perspective” that might better engage and equip today’s medical students to practice medicine now and into the future.

A breakdown of the discussion and the recommendations from the conference are outlined in the new Breakthrough Report. Released during a time when Undergraduate Medical Education (UME) at U of T is continuing to roll out its largest curriculum renewal in years, the report outlines potential recommendations for the MD Program to consider – a number of which fit nicely into the new curriculum.

At the conference, participants were challenged to let go of assumptions about traditional medical education and instead think of learning experiences — whether inside or outside of the classroom — that inspired them or helped them in their current careers and how these might apply to medical school. Innovations, speakers noted, often result from thinking outside of our current paradigm and challenging the assumptions that constrain our experience or even by accepting existing limitations and working around them.

Professor Kymm Feldman, the former Program Director for Undergraduate Medicine at the DFCM, had the idea for the conference after hearing about similar types of events in other fields.

“Technology, research and other advances are challenging medical schools to stay ahead and design curricula that ensure our students have the right skills when they become physicians,” says Feldman. “Though the University of Toronto has one of the top medical schools in the world, there’s always potential for us to learn from how other disciplines are evolving education. If we are to stay at the forefront of medical education, we have to continue to ask questions differently.”

The recommendations outlined in the Breakthrough Report include: a design lab where MD students can work with a diverse design team to assess, develop and test innovative curriculum; holding a “Breakthrough conference” for students to tackle these questions from their perspectives; creating an immersive patient experience to understand the lived experiences of patients on a larger scale; collaborating with other faculties and departments within U of T to create unique combined degrees that allow students to achieve personal and professional balance; and much more.

“Right now it’s great because aspects of some of these recommendations are already being integrated into the new curriculum or have been raised as priorities,” says Feldman. “The next steps will be to work with UME to determine which recommendations to move forward with and invest in.”

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