Throughout this past year, we at the Macy Foundation have been intentional in our efforts to give voice—to learners and trainees, to topics in health professions education that must be amplified, and to those who are underrepresented in medicine and nursing but whose experiences and voices are essential to the health and wellbeing of the public. In listening to and learning from these voices, I have great hopes for a future in health professions education where we legitimately and authentically co-create a new paradigm.
Our 2021 Macy Conference, COVID-19 and the Impact on Medical and Nursing Education, offered multiple opportunities to hear from health professions students and trainees, beginning with their service on the conference planning committee. In many ways, the learners’ perspective led us to the first recommendation, which speaks to the critical need to move beyond learner-centered education and toward an education co-created by faculty and learners. I encourage leaders and educators in academic health systems and health professions institutions to carefully consider two action steps offered in the first recommendation of the conference report:
- Health system and health profession education
(HPE) leaders and educators must collaborate with learners on educational
program direction, working in partnership to evaluate existing policies and
practices to address harmful bias; implement equitable recruitment policies and
practices for future students; foster retention of a diverse student body and
faculty; develop unbiased and flexible advancement policies; design and
evaluate curricula and assessment free of harmful bias; and develop community
- Health system and HPE leaders and educators must support HPE learners in taking on roles as educators, change agents, and content experts within their HPE institutions—much as learners sometimes did out of necessity during the first waves of the pandemic.
While I continue to look forward with hope and optimism toward a brighter future for health professions education, we cannot ignore the persistent challenges and hardship faced by those within the greater health care system as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. At the time of writing this statement in December 2021, we find ourselves once again facing a new and uncertain variant. Health care workers on the frontlines are dispirited by the never-ending nature of this crisis, downtrodden by the effects of cumulative grief, and, at times, even disrespected by the people whom they are serving. And while applications to medical and nursing schools are up, an alarming number of physicians and nurses are leaving the health professions. Having given so much for so many months, it is not surprising that many health care professionals feel that they have no more to give. This situation should be a wake-up call: we cannot safeguard the health of the public without safeguarding the health of the workforce.
I continue to hope that the availability of COVID-19 vaccines and boosters and a greater understanding of treatments for the disease, along with the multiple safety precautions that we all know well, will collectively offer the opportunity to begin gathering in person once again. At present, we are planning for the Macy Faculty Scholars to convene later this summer for the program’s Annual Meeting—an event that is always inspiring and invigorating for attendees, a group of faculty who are deeply committed to advancing health professions education. For the last two years, the group gathered virtually for this event, and I know we are all eager to meet in person and celebrate one another’s successes.
I also look forward with eager anticipation to our 2022 Macy Conference as another opportunity to gather in person with, listen to, and learn from leaders and learners in health professions education. Our 2022 Conference, which will focus on fairness in clinical assessment, covers an issue that has long troubled students who are concerned about bias and discrimination in assessment and the impact this has on their future professional opportunities. The topic is an extension of the work that began in 2019 with the launch of the Foundation’s new strategic priorities and follows on the 2020 Macy Conference, which addressed bias and discrimination in health professions learning environments.
It is increasingly clear that we are living in a liminal time, where uncertainty and hardship are juxtaposed with tremendous discovery and hope. My hope for 2022 is that we can continue to build upon all that we have learned—from the scientists and clinicians on the front lines of COVID, from the educators and learners who are finding creative solutions to both new and persistent issues in health professions education, and from the myriad voices of those whose lived experiences call us to collectively work toward a more just, equitable future. We should not aspire to “return to normal,” but to take these hard-earned lessons and use them as the basis for innovations that can be applied for the betterment of health professions educators and learners, and for the health and wellbeing of the individuals and communities whom they serve.