Today’s students, tomorrow’s leaders: Curriculum teaches future doctors how to lead

May 2, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Strategy & Leadership,

To better prepare students to be impactful leaders in health care, the U-M Medical School has made leadership development a central component of its transformed curriculum.

“Some schools offer leadership programs, but at Michigan there is an increased emphasis on it because we see such a need for leaders both in medicine and in our society,” said David P. Fessell, M.D., professor of radiology and director of the leadership curriculum. “We want to ensure that our students develop and refine their skills to fill those important roles.”

All U-M med students go through four years of leadership training while also learning the clinical tools necessary to succeed as practicing physicians.

That means graduates leave the program fluent in five leadership competencies: leading yourself, communicating and influencing others, building teams, problem solving and impacting systems.

“By helping them master those competencies, we make sure our graduates have exceptional communication skills, are calm under pressure and become sought-after leaders across the globe,” Fessell said.

The school wastes no time in getting students exposed to such training, including it in the weeklong orientation process. From that point forward, the leadership curriculum includes large-group events, case-based learning activities, hands-on sessions, capstone projects, self-reflection and faculty coaching.

Students also attend sessions on building teams and conducting challenging conversations, and participate in Conversations with Leaders — a series where they hear firsthand accounts of the leadership journeys of Medical School alumni.

Among the more popular attractions has been a training session on “Distilling and Delivering Your Message,” and a workshop where students engage in a series of improv exercises to help with communication skills like presence, flexibility and observation (body language, facial expressions, etc.).

First-year student Alexandra Highet said she appreciates the school’s emphasis on leadership development.

“We’ll all be expected take on some form of leadership role as a future physician,” Highet said. “That could involve utilizing solid communication skills with colleagues or becoming the leader of a health care system, department or foundation.

“I expect that as I proceed through my career, solid leadership skills will be just as important to my success as my clinical knowledge.”

To track their leadership progression, students use the Michigan Leadership CV, a tool that provides an individualized framework to map leadership activities and assess milestones as they are completed. The CV can be adapted to fit personal goals and interests.

“At Michigan, we have a strong legacy and tradition of producing leaders,” Fessell said. “Now more than ever, it is needed.”

This is one in a series of Headlines stories highlighting the medical school curriculum transformation.