Published March 14, 2019
From their first day on campus, students in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB experience active learning classrooms, open “learning landscapes” and advanced simulation facilities, all aimed at providing them with a state-of-the-art medical education.
Now, the Jacobs School is going a step further: It has established the Medical Education and Educational Research Institute (MEERI), a comprehensive and innovative institute for advancing medical education at UB. The institute will function as an academy for UB’s medical educators, supporting, advancing and recognizing Jacobs School faculty and instructional staff in teaching, learning, scholarship in education, mentoring and peer coaching.
Jennifer Meka, assistant professor in the departments of Psychiatry and Humanities at the Penn State College of Medicine and a nationally recognized educator in medical education and scholarship, has been named MEERI’s inaugural director, assistant dean for medical education at the Jacobs School and an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine, with a secondary appointment in the Graduate School of Education. She assumed her new positions March 12.
“The Jacobs School is most pleased to welcome Dr. Meka as MEERI’s inaugural director,” said Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the medical school. “A nationally recognized educator and scholar in medical education, she brings to her new position outstanding skills in education, curriculum design and assessment, along with expertise that will be crucial to the redesign of the Jacobs School curriculum, advancing our undergraduate and graduate medical educational programs.”
She will also work with the Office of Student and Academic Affairs and the Office of Medical Curriculum to enhance services for students in the areas of academic support, learning strategies, mentorship and advising.
Meka earned her bachelor’s degree in secondary education and a Master’s of Science in teacher education from Canisius College. She received her doctorate from the Graduate School of Education at UB. At Penn State College of Medicine, in addition to her academic appointments, she was the inaugural director of the Woodward Center for Excellence in Health Sciences Education and the director of Cognitive Skills Programs.
MEERI is a critical piece of the Jacobs School’s Strategic Plan for Medical Education, planned over the past three years by a committee of medical school faculty, students and administrators, as well as medical education consultants. The goals of the institute are to foster the skills of medical educators and to promote scholarship in medical education, career advancement and recognition, as well as peer support.
The committee has been working on enhancing the school’s medical curriculum in response to innovations led by the American Medical Association’s Change MedEd program and an enhanced emphasis on active learning from the Liaison Committee for Medical Education (LCME), the national accrediting body for medical schools.
The Change MedEd program has thus far been instituted at a select group of medical schools, including Penn State College of Medicine, Meka’s current institution.
“Dr. Meka’s experience at a ChangeMedEd institution will be invaluable as we pursue curricular enhancements at the Jacobs School,” Cain added.
Those enhancements are part of the vision of the Jacobs School’s strategic plan, according to Alan J. Lesse, MD, senior associate dean for medical curriculum at the Jacobs School. “MEERI will help develop and inspire exceptional physicians and scientists through transformative education, and foster an environment at the Jacobs School that creates and supports outstanding educators,” he said.
Teaching students through methods other than lecturing is one of the most significant changes being implemented in medical schools, he said. The LCME has suggested that traditional lectures comprise no more than 40 percent of a medical school’s curriculum, to be replaced by instruction methods where students play a more active role.
“The medical students of today are very different from the students of 20 or 30 years ago,” said Lesse. He noted that today’s students are comfortable learning in a multimedia environment. They are used to working in groups on a single problem, a skill that will serve them well since health care is an increasingly team-based, interprofessional environment.
“For that reason, there’s an increased emphasis on team-based learning, so-called flipped classrooms where students apply what they learned from pre-class activities during class and case- or problem-based learning, and faculty have to be trained in applying all these new approaches,” he said.
It’s also no accident, he noted, that the institution of the new curriculum has accelerated since the Jacobs School moved into its new building a little over a year ago. “‘Teaching the teachers’ to utilize these new approaches will allow us to better utilize all of the innovative educational features of our new building as well,” he said.
While improvements to the curriculum occur continuously as part of the school’s ongoing efforts for quality improvement, the Jacobs School is planning for a redesigned curricular format starting in 2022.
“The curricular redesign will emphasize topics now seen as critical to the education of physicians,” Lesse said, “including health disparities, population health, the social determinants of health, and health care finances. These topics will receive additional emphasis and be threaded through the entire system.”