An internationally renowned leader in medical education recently spoke at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine and to the Teaching Excellence Academy for Collaborative Healthcare (TEACH), sharing his vision for how medical schools must adapt to the changing landscape of the world.

“I think the biggest change in the next decade will be the roles of students and teachers in the education program,” said Ronald M. Harden, the editor-in-chief of Medical Teacher and emeritis professor of medical education of the University of Dundee in the United Kingdom. “We will no longer see students simply as customers or clients but they will become true partners, working with teachers to develop the education program of their training experience.”

Before Richard Vari, the founding curriculum dean at the medical school, tragically passed away from complications from ALS in 2022, he expressed a desire to feature Harden at the Richard C. Vari Endowed Lecture. Vari became acquainted with Harden Vari's work in with the International Association of Medical Science Educators, which presented the Edward Patrick Finnerty Lifetime Achievement Award to him in 2022.

Faculty from the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine discuss research posters standing in the school's lobby.
As part of the TEACH Education Day, faculty present posters on their research related to medical education. Photo by Ryan Anderson for Virginia Tech.

“This lecture is an annual opportunity to celebrate Rick Vari’s legacy of innovation at our medical school by featuring international thought leaders in medical education,” said Lee Learman, dean of the school. “As one of the world’s most accomplished experts in medical education, Dr. Harden receives many speaking invitations each year. It is particularly meaningful that he developed a connection to Rick and joined us in Roanoke.”

Harden recounted conversations with Vari regarding the difficulty in challenging the conservative tendencies of medical education. He said that with the rapidly changing knowledge base and innovation explosion, students must be equipped with the ability to adapt to the changes they will face in their medical careers decades from now. 

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of self-directed learning while advancements in artificially intelligence are upending numerous industries, including health care.

“The only way we can cope with these challenges facing us in medical education is by looking at how we are using our staff and our students, and how they can work together in true partnership,” Harden said. “The notion that the teachers are just there to teach and the students are there to learn is outdated. We can work together to build a better process.”

Thirteen individuals stand at the top of stairs in front of the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine holding trophies.
Recipients of awards focused on teaching gather to celebrate their achievements on TEACH Education Day. Photo by Ryan Anderson for Virginia Tech.

The lecture was part of the annual TEACH Education Day, which includes selected presentations and poster sessions, as well as an awards reception focused on medical education. The mission of TEACH is to promote learning excellence at the medical school, Carilion Clinic and Radford University Carilion by creating a community of educators and fostering their development as teachers, learners, and education researchers.

“We were deeply honored to have Dr. Harden join us on TEACH Education Day,” said Shari Whicker, assistant dean for faculty development and director of TEACH. “This day is special because we can host such a distinguished lecturer while also honoring our outstanding faculty and their educational innovations. TEACH is proud to host this day as well as continuing professional development opportunities throughout the year. While we are a smaller school, we are large in education innovation and scholarship.”

Harden said the intimate size of the medical school (VTCSOM) and its problem-based learning curriculum, originally designed by Vari, presents distinct advantages when helping students learn to adapt to the future in health care.  

“As an endocrinologist, I practiced precision medicine. If you looked at my waiting room, you may have seen several patients with thyroid disease. But each one was unique and had to be treated differently whether it be with antiviral drugs or surgery or something else,” he said. “What you have at VTCSOM is an opportunity to practice precision education. Each student can receive personalized attention to address their individual learning needs. That can result in a more equitable form of education that will result in them thriving for years to come.”


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