Development and support key to attracting faculty

By Sasha Roeder Mah

The University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry has a rich history of attracting world-class clinicians and academics. Once they're here, what supports are in place to retain them and encourage their growth and development?

Faculty Development

The mandate for Mia Lang, Associate Dean, Faculty Development, is to "guide the individual faculty member to optimize their professional skills, such as teaching, leadership and research skills." A new set of faculty evaluation committee standards come into effect July 1, 2019, to recognize, encourage and reward the changing contributions of faculty in cutting-edge areas such as education scholarship, showcasing research and development in health- professions education.

Lang's office supports and facilitates a number of faculty-development workshops every year. She's encouraged by the popularity last year of a graduate student supervisor seminar on improving mentorship skills, and a three-part clinical reasoning workshop to help teachers assess how they respond to their students' diverse needs. "We have to be very nimble about identifying different learner needs and we need to think about why we ask the questions we ask," Lang says. "Is it to help us assess them, or is it to help them learn?"

Beyond polishing their skills, says Lang, workshops are a great opportunity for faculty to develop relationships with peers and mentors. "I'd like to see us move away from our individual, siloed activities to more of a community approach."

IDEAS office

The IDEAS office, launched in the fall of 2017, is working to build a community of health-profession scholars to improve health professions education (HPE) scholarship. The office does this by building relationships and providing more supportive infrastructure and personnel, says IDEAS Director and J.Allan Gilbert Chair in Medical Education Research, Carol Hodgson.

IDEAS aims to support all faculty and is particularly focused on members whose appointments have less than 40 per cent research. These faculty often do not have the time or training to do all the scholarly work required for merit increases or promotion.

Support from the IDEAS team helps them develop HPE research through all its stages, from initial questions to final publications.

"Collaborations on presentations, publications and grants are the core of an office to support scholarship," says Hodgson, "but the IDEAS team are also very proud of their teaching through faculty and professional development, primarily through the Teaching Scholars Program. It is through this training that IDEAS hopes to build a community of HPE scholars."

Lifelong Learning

The office of Lifelong Learning fills a different niche, says Denise Campbell-Scherer, associate dean, as the academic home for faculty interested in implementation science, or the application of existing knowledge. "Everything we do is wasted if we can't implement it," she explains. "Our office will also help build capacity for quality improvement, which will play a key role in 21st-century continuous professional development."

The Physician Learning Program (PLP) carries out projects with data and human-centred design elements, and can also pair practitioner teams with end users "to mobilize the tacit knowledge and lived experiences of families, patients, clinicians," says Campbell-Scherer. PLP projects create effective solutions to health-care needs.

Campbell-Scherer's team will grow in the coming months from the current seven to up to 15. "We're also working to increase our reach and impact of PLP projects through liaising with well-developed system stakeholder networks; this extends the scale and spread of the innovations that are found through our collective work."

Advocacy & Wellbeing

The office formerly known as Learner Advocacy and Wellness has been rebranded as the Office of Advocacy & Wellbeing to enhance engagement and wellness through the full Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry continuum: from undergraduate and postgraduate learners to graduate students and now also faculty members.

The new office will have an assistant dean for faculty wellness, says Melanie Lewis, Associate Dean, Advocacy & Wellbeing. She envisions the new assistant dean participating in high-level planning and decision-making, to advocate for reduced burnout and better morale among faculty.
"Struggling faculty are often both a symptom and a contributor to toxic work and learning environments," adds Lewis.

Equity, diversity and inclusion

Helly Goez, Assistant Dean, Diversity, says her office is well supported by the faculty's formal diversity and equitable recruitment policies. She works hard to promote the understanding that all faculty experience different social intersectionalities, which bring the potential for stress and workplace suffering. "We know that when people are discriminated against because of their diversity it impacts their well- being and hinders their productivity."
"We all deserve to feel good when we come to work," summarizes Goez. "When we hire a person we open the gate, but to keep them, we need to value their contribution and show it in a meaningful way."

A closer look at Physician Learning Program

The major programmatic grant (between Alberta Health and the Alberta Medical Association) in the office of Lifelong Learning is the Physician Learning Program (PLP). Working with physician leads, PLP designs and carries out projects that focus on gaps in clinical practice that exist despite strong evidence about what is appropriate. In addition to stand-alone projects, five pillars help organize projects. Here's a snapshot of what's happening:

  • Digestive health: Improving colonoscopies, in partnership with the Alberta Colorectal Cancer Screening program and the Digestive Health Strategic Clinical Network;

  • Antimicrobial stewardship: Partnering with AHS Antimicrobial Stewardship Committee, among others, to help physicians and teams better understand appropriate antibiotic use, in support of Choosing Wisely Canada;

  • Metabolic disease: Multiple projects tackling issues around obesity, diabetes and hypertension;

  • Patients Collaborating with Teams (PaCT): Primary Health Care Integration Network initiative designed to help primary care teams better support patients who require significant support to maintain their health;

  • Marginalized populations: Creating a searchable, online interactive map of the services and resources in Calgary and Edmonton that might benefit inner-city patients with high acute-care needs, in support of key partner Addiction Recovery and Community Health (ARCH).