Leaders in Medical Education

Dr. Mark Richardson, Dean of the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine

Alice Ferng
Dec 12, 2014

Today, we are pleased to feature Dr. Mark Richardson, MD, MScB, MBA, as part of our Leaders in Medical Education Series. Dr. Richardson is an active researcher, educator, and surgeon, with an expertise in complex pediatric disorders. Prior to his appointment as the Dean of the Oregon Health & Science University School of Medicine (OHSU), he served as professor and chairman of the OHSU Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery from 2001 to 2006. Dr. Richardson was recruited to OHSU from Johns Hopkins University where he served as the Bordley Professor of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery. Prior to joining Johns Hopkins, he spent 15 years on faculty at the University of Washington School of Medicine. He earned his medical degree from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, completed his surgical internship at the University of South Florida in Tampa, and completed his otolaryngology/head and neck surgery residency at the Medical University Hospital in Charleston. After, he completed a fellowship in pediatric otolaryngology at Children’s Hospital Medical center in Cincinnati, OH. While at Johns Hopkins, he earned both his Master of Science in Business (MScB) degree in 1998 and MBA degree in 2000.

1. How did you decide on a career in medicine?

I can’t really remember how my overall interest in medicine first began but I do remember having chemistry sets as a small child, and always being passionate about understanding how things worked. The first time I actually visualized myself as a physician was about age 12. An older friend injured himself in a pickup basketball game, and despite being the youngest person on the court, I exhibited the most presence of mind while we waited for the professional caregivers to come. It was pretty thrilling. Over the years, this interest continued to be reinforced with good feedback from physician interactions, science teachers and television show characterizations (Dr. Kildare, Marcus Welby, etc.). Finally, my path was set! I’ve never looked back.

2. What made you pick ENT as your specialty?

Otolaryngology met a lot of my own pre-requisites for what I believed would help me build a satisfying career. It includes surgery, which I discovered I liked enormously and found, honestly, to be fun. The patients are all ages and both men and women, so a lot of diversity there. It was a body of knowledge I thought I could get my head around. Otolaryngology includes interesting and highly specialized equipment. And I found that a generally happy group of providers tend to gravitate toward the specialty. Taken together, it all worked for me. I never looked back on that decision either.

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

At OHSU, we are underway on a pretty major transformation in our approach to medical education, so we are changing many things now. I’ll highlight two things that I think are particularly important.

First, we are ensuring that anyone teaching in a medical school program is not only a content expert but also knows how to teach. Medical education has a history of inviting renowned people to teach because they are experts in a subject, without being overly concerned about their ability to teach. Plus, teaching-by-doing – a student shadowing a physician – is inculcated into our educational culture but without a concurrent requirement that the physician be a good teacher. While there are aspects of both these historical approaches that are essential to becoming a good physician, we have a responsibility to balance this with professionalism and excellence in educational technique as well.

Second, we are moving to a competency-based educational model in which students demonstrate proficiency in an array of skills, rather than passing a series of sequential written tests taken over the course of four years. This means entering medical students who are, for example, already trained as physician assistants or have an advanced degree in biology, can shorten their medical education. Equally important, we seamlessly link to UME competencies in the next phase of a physician’s education – residency training – and then continue into CME to support a life-long approach to physician learning.

4. If you could change two or three things about the US healthcare system, what would they be?

First, everyone needs to be all-in. Everyone needs access to affordable and quality health insurance coverage. Only then can we as a nation end the consequences of the invisible cost-shift from uninsured to insured that has made it impossible to rein in care spending or create effective population health strategies.

Second – and coincident with number one – I would reinvigorate a model of public health that reflects modern society: mobile or pop-up clinics, walk-in clinics at schools and businesses, access to health care via Skype, social media, crowd-sourcing, even holograms one day; all of which would provide routine care (vaccines, health screenings, well-baby checkups, dental checkups, nutrition information, short-term mental health care and so on) by appropriately trained and culturally-competent team of professionals and supplemented by referrals to specialists as needed. Not everyone needs to be seen by a physician in a formal clinic setting. It’s an old-fashioned concept (one that dates back to the televisions shows I mentioned as influencing me as a young student!), and it no longer matches the reality of our communities.

5. What is one or two of the most rewarding things about being a dean at your current institution? 

The pace of change is very fast now, and it is rewarding to be part of an institution that is leading change across all our missions – in particular for students. We are moving forward on a transformed curriculum that aligns medical education with the future environment of care, and ensures our graduates are ready to help shape the course of the continuing health care revolution.

I also take great satisfaction in talking to our faculty members and alumni – scientists, educators, clinicians – and having the privilege of witnessing firsthand their remarkable work. This is true for students too. It’s thrilling to have a role in helping our students evolve into physicians, scientists and other health care professionals, knowing they will have a profound effect on the health and well-being of people everywhere. That’s an amazing gift.