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Exceptional Moments in Teaching honorees take center stage

Dr. Pamela Brian, a radiologist at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, wrote stories and poems to help teach students about complex subjects. “It may seem silly,” wrote one student about Brian, who was featured in the August 2018 Penn State College of Medicine’s Exceptional Moments in Teaching program, “but these are fantastic methods because I will always remember the lessons from them.”

Dr. Matthew Silvis, a sports medicine physician in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Penn State Health Medical Group — Palmyra, received the recognition in April 2018. “He took time out of his week to put on a review session for us at night, which he wasn’t required to do,” said his student nominator.

Dr. Emmanuelle Williams, a gastroenterologist at the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, “created a safe space for us to make mistakes and learn from them,” said a student. Williams was recognized in February 2018.

Sometimes they’re small. Sometimes they’re grand gestures. But teacher-student moments like these are important strands in the fabric of an education at the College of Medicine.

And they happen more often than you might think. During the past 17 months, George Blackall, director of the Office for a Respectful Learning Environment, has collected 758 narratives from College of Medicine students hoping to recognize someone who both challenged and changed them. The program, Blackall says, is helping to make the College of Medicine an even better place for tomorrow’s medical professionals.

The narratives came from 37 departments, recognizing 302 people. Of those recognized, 214 were faculty members and 68 were residents. The group also included nine fellows, seven nurses and four graduate students.

“This program is starting to garner some national attention,” Blackall said Wednesday at a luncheon honoring the recipients of the monthly award. An upcoming edition of Academic Medicine will publish an article about the Exceptional Teacher program – the Office for a Respectful Learning Environment’s overall effort to gather narratives about outstanding teachers.

It began in late 2016. The Association of American Medical Colleges’ annual survey showed that the College of Medicine ranked slightly above the national average in student complaints of mistreatment. The College of Medicine created the Office for a Respectful Learning Environment to turn the numbers around.

“I was going around meeting with everybody who would meet with me and talking about learner mistreatment,” Blackall said, “and I got consistent feedback: You’re missing the mark. You need to pay attention to all of the great work that is already happening here.”

In addition to addressing problems, Blackall discovered focusing on positive moments could help improve the environment. What followed was the Exceptional Moments in Teaching Program. And now, according to the association’s most recent survey, the mistreatment number has fallen by 10 percent.

“The words that the learners use in nominating you for this recognition often give people that ‘aha’ moment,” said Dr. Craig Hillemeier, dean of the College of Medicine, chief executive officer of Penn State Health and senior vice president of health affairs for Penn State, who spoke at the luncheon. “I know in my career, those ‘aha’ moments have happened…If you didn’t do what you do, we wouldn’t have that opportunity. We’re trying to think of even more ways to take the truly exceptional teaching that you’ve done and really raise the level of teaching that we have as an institution.”

Exceptional Moments in Teaching Award Honorees

  • Dr. Karen Krok, gastroenterologist and hepatologist ― Hershey Medical Center
  • Dr. Emmanuelle Williams, gastroenterologist ― Hershey Medical Center
  • Dr. Matt Silvis, primary care sports medicine physician ­― Department of Family and Community Medicine at Penn State Health Medical Group — Palmyra
  • Dr. John Ingraham, plastic and reconstructive surgeon ― Hershey Medical Center
  • Dr. Ron Miller, nephrologist ― Hershey Medical Center
  • Dr. Pamela Brian, radiologist ― Hershey Medical Center
  • Dr. Michael Freeman, staff physician in pediatric nephrology ― Hershey Medical Center
  • Dr. Sarah Ramirez, staff physician ― Family and Community Medicine Administration, Hershey Medical Center
  • Dr. Debra Byler, staff physician in pediatric neurology ― Hershey Medical Center
  • Dr. Jed Gonzalo, associate dean for health systems education ― Penn State College of Medicine
  • Dr. Laurie Nelson, staff physician, general internal medicine ― Hershey Medical Center

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