Leaders in Medical Education

Dr. Stuart Flynn, Dean at The University of Arizona College of Medicine-Phoenix

Osmosis Team
Published on Oct 20, 2014. Updated on Invalid date.

Today we are honored to share insights from a leader in medical education, Dr. Stuart Flynn. His coast to coast accolades (University of Michigan, Stanford, Yale,and University of Arizona) include teaching as a professor of pathology and surgery at Yale University School of Medicine, helping to found The Society of Distinguished Teachers at Yale and now purposefully growing medical education as Dean at the University of Arizona College of Medicine at Phoenix campus.

How did you decide on a career in medicine?

Unlike the extensive clinical exposure many premed students have today that undoubtedly helps solidify their thinking and long term goals, that was not the case when I was a college student. So, like many of my peers, the path started with a love and a passion for science, math, and technology. Although much more indirect than today, I had the experiences of healthcare, visiting the doctor, watching family members address health-related issues from minor to significant and the wedding of interest in the sciences with the realization that they could be maximized in a powerful fashion in becoming a physician, quite quickly my desire to go to medical school crystallized.

As Dean of the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix, what does an "average" day look like for you?

There is no "average" day as you can imagine. Much of each day is consumed by meetings, the vast majority revolve around the college's four pillars, namely education, research, clinical (healthcare delivery) and community. This diversity not only makes for rare (or never!) days that feel mundane or not productive and conversely, as the chief academic officer for the school driving our mission, I have one of the most rewarding jobs I could envision. I have the wonderful experience of working with several large healthcare providers in the sixth largest city in the country, all of whom value our distributed teaching and research model, affording the college a wealth of opportunities that few other schools enjoy. Collectively, this allow us to tackle the challenges cascading around healthcare, from training the next generation of physicians who will lead in the decades to come to working with our partners to optimize care delivery models and discoveries to improve health and care for all. I enjoy sharing the school's vision and mission in my interactions with politicians, business leaders, and leaders in our valley and state in which positive outcomes can have a profound impact statewide.

I also enjoy a large teaching commitment at our school and have been able to maintain a role in research, addressing the molecular pathology of transplanted cardiac stem cells using in vitro and in vivo models. 

What are the top two or three things you would change about the way we train our physicians?

Certainly there are "new" elements used in the training of physicians that require immense efforts, with standardized patients, simulation, advances in technology, and the incessant advances in medical knowledge that continue to mold how the next generation of physicians will practice. However, to select only three areas that I would change in the training today, I would suggest:

  1. Not only emphasizing the patient-centric, interprofessional team approach to healthcare delivery from a conceptual, "teaching" perspective, but to actually empower an academic out-patient center to deliver care using and valuing this model. This would allow all healthcare providers to understand that this approach has gone from "concept" to a delivery of care model. This would allow this environment to drive quantum advancement in the interface between health and healthcare.

  2. We must continue to stress the importance of interpersonal skills, communication, humanism, and "listening" in an environment consumed by technology and speed. These qualities are essential to the patient-doctor relationship, not to mention understanding the totality of the patient, rather than the patient as a symptom or lab value.

  3. The training of the next generation of physicians must continue to emphasize "health and wellness" and how to value the healthcare team and technology to empower such. This is a critical "next step" in altering the dynamic of healthcare in the U.S. and globally.

Every few weeks there appears to be a new report discussing burnout rates of physicians and the fact that many would decide not to pursue medicine if given the chance. In this somewhat disheartening environment, do you have any advice for current medical students about avoiding burnout? Or more general advice?

Everyone in medicine knows that it is a highly demanding, yet very rewarding profession. However, we in the profession are paying much greater attention to our own "wellness" and respect that there MUST be time for family, one's self, and for the community, among other things. Medical schools can be very proactive in infusing this from the moment medical students step on campus, ensuring appropriate time for  students throughout the week "for themselves." Clinical hour limits for medical students and residents, controversies aside, represent a significant positive step in not only modeling the value of personal time during one's training, but also highlights the concept of one demonstrating excellence as a physician as well as having balance outside of the profession. My advice to entering medical students would be that there is a healthy balance during your journey as a physician that is attainable if you actively and positively approach this. This will ensure that you are a valued member of the healthcare team, but you are also able to find time for the things you enjoy, ranging from family to hobbies to just relaxing and resting. For most physicians, this will require introspection as to what is most important for you to do during your "time off." Recognizing that you most likely can't do everything you want to do all of the time as a physician  but if you are intentionally engage in this process, not only will you find you can do many things outside of your practice, but you will feel fulfilled knowing you that you do have significant control over your life and lifestyle. I believe that  this balance is imperative to personal satisfaction and collectively, will help the next generation feel more empowered with their career and personal lives and be a positive step in addressing the "burnout" issue.  

What was/were the most memorable experience(s) during your medical education?

All of one's medical education is grounded in patient care and the fashion in which one's mentors approach this and "teach" is so powerful in a young person's growth. To this end, I had several teachers who I learned what "not" to do, but phenomenally memorable were my mentors who profoundly led by example, treated me as a valued colleague, worked harder than all others around them, tried to answer any question I ask of them, and were able to "wear" my shoes even though they were years to decades past this point in their careers. These superb mentors taught me that in a demanding profession and during very difficult times, one did not have to lose humanism, compassion, engagement, and passion for patients or anyone else, even those who were the lowest in the profession's hierarchy, the student, but those same students, in a few short years, would be the new generation of leaders in medicine and would model what they had seen. To this day I try to emulate these qualities that my phenomenal mentors shared with me and although I don't meet their standards as I may wish, they have given me a goal for which I constantly strive to achieve. I can never thank them enough for what they truly did teach me.