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Technology in Health Professions Education: A Conversation with Dr. Charles Prober

New York, NY

Charles G. Prober, MD, Senior Associate Dean for Medical Education and professor of pediatrics, microbiology and immunology at Stanford University School of Medicine, is using technology to enhance the education experience and simultaneously build a common core curriculum for medical students. Dr. Prober attended Macy’s Enhancing Health Professions Education through Technology Conference and engaged in discussions to inform Macy’s new recommendations for the field.

We caught up with Dr. Prober to learn more about his work and how he sees technology as a resource to improving health professions education:

How can technology help improve health professions education?

At Stanford my colleagues and I are creating online educational content that students can access on their own time at their own pace, and then sharing this content with other medical schools to use. This enables more students to have access to the same core curriculum across health professions schools.

What does this online content look like?
We have created short animated videos that use real patient stories to introduce students to specific medical content areas in a compelling and relevant manner. These videos, accompanied by voiceover PowerPoints of didactic material and questions to ensure students follow along, are created by faculty and shared with students before class.

The idea is that students will engage with the content on their own time and then come to class more prepared and more ready to work with other students and faculty. This makes the classroom time more conversational and more about the exchanging of ideas and opinions rather than everyone sitting around listening to a lecture.

For a student to come to class this prepared they must come with basic knowledge, knowledge that is now acquired watching the online content. Then in the classroom, or what we call, the “interactive sessions,” learners are not hearing the information for the first time. They are instead able to use what they learned online before class and dive right into different group exercises with their peers.

What is the benefit of sharing this content across schools?
Right now the content is currently being shared with four other academic institutions, but ultimately it is our intent to make the core, online content available to all health professions schools. We need to try and reach a consensus, among all health professions schools in the U.S., on what the foundational curriculum needs to be for our students. Currently every medical school has its own curriculum, but we need a foundational consensus so that the entire workforce is equally prepared for practice. This would also give us a better foundation on how best to test students, because students take the same national exams but are learning different things. If we have shared content and a shared exam, we’ll be better aligned.

Could you do this without technology?
Technology is the secret sauce to optimize education. Creating engaging content using technology such as video, and putting that content online, allows us to share it and scale it. This is the bonus, because not only will we be able to optimize education for students at Stanford, but for students everywhere. We will be able to better educate those that do not have the same access to high-level resources, including other health professions schools here in the U.S. or schools abroad.

Is technology being used the way it should be in education? What’s your advice to the field?
Many in academia think that traditional lectures work. I don’t disagree, but I think there needs to be a blend. We need to embrace technology: it holds a lot of potential to help us improve the educational experience, and I think those in the education space should be talking to more in the tech sector so that we are better aligned and can leverage technology in the most robust ways.

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