Helping Students Manage the Transition to Post-Graduate Education - Susan Spielberg, Education Specialist at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine


It’s another special episode of Raise the Line, where we have the honor of speaking with Susan Spielberg, overall winner of the Student Advisor category in the 2022 Osmosis Raise the Line Faculty Awards. Chosen from a pool of over 1,000 nominees representing 377 institutions worldwide, Susan truly embodies the six core values of Osmosis, as evidenced by the glowing testimonials and videos submitted by her students and colleagues. Join host Michael Carrese as he dives into Susan's educational career and her current role at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, where she serves as a student advisor across the pharmacy and dental schools. In this engaging conversation, Susan shares her approach which involves proactively seeking out those who may be hesitant to ask for help. "I find that many people have difficulty asking for help. That's why I feel the need to go out and find them." Tune in to learn more about the types of support students increasingly need, why she thinks teaching the affective is just as important as academics, and why she’s known as the “grandma” of LECOM. Mentioned in this episode: www.osmosis.org/faculty-awards




Michael Carrese: Hi everybody, I'm Michael Carrese. In this special episode, we'll be talking to one of the winners of the 2022 Osmosis Raise the Line Faculty Awards, who was chosen from over a thousand nominations we received from 377 institutions from around the globe, with the students and their colleagues submitting videos and testimonials telling us how they embody the six Osmosis core values. Today, I'm really happy to welcome Susan Spielberg. She's the overall winner for the Student Advisor category and works at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine. So, welcome to the program and congratulations. 


Susan Spielberg: Thank you so much. A pleasure to be here.


Michael Carrese: Why don't we start with having you tell us more about you and what you do there at LECOM.


Susan Spielberg: So, my name is Susan Spielberg. I am currently what they call the Education Specialist at Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Bradenton, Florida and my responsibilities cover students at both the dental and the pharmacy schools. 


Michael Carrese: Yeah, and that's interesting because there is a lot more talk of integrating education across health professions. Is that part of what you are involved in? 


Susan Spielberg: Yes. We try to do a lot of interprofessional education between the three schools. Right here in Bradenton, we have three. We have med, we have dental, and we have pharmacy. 


Michael Carrese: Your students are stepping into a world that has changed a lot in the last ten years in terms of the team approach. But this goes even further than that, right? I think during COVID people may have heard a little bit about this, “hey, dentist's offices are in a good position to do vaccines,” for example. 


Susan Spielberg: Well, and we're trying to train our students also -- I do most of my work with the dental students, so especially the dental students -- to understand when they're seeing a patient that they have to see the whole patient and to analyze the medical situation, the pharmaceuticals the patient might be taking along with the dental issues that they come with in order to make good decisions for the treatment. 


Michael Carrese: Yeah, that makes sense. I also understand that you're involved in the standardized patient aspect of the program. Can you, first of all, help people understand what that is and then tell us what you do? 


Susan Spielberg: So, my first foray into medical education from regular public-school education was as a standardized patient at the medical school. This was several years ago, and it was a fabulous experience. The students are divided into small groups and study the separate systems. They learn how to do a cardiac exam, a gastro exam, a skin exam, etc. 


As a standardized patient, it's really like being an actor. We get a script, and the student doesn't know what the script is. They come in, they introduce themselves and there are certain things they have to do. Then they have to take a history to learn the current complaint, past history, social history, etc. Then they do their ten-minute physical exam, they go out, they do their notes, and then when they come back in our job was to provide feedback to them...more in terms of bedside manner, how they dealt with the patient, rather than actually with the specifics of the physical exam, because there are doctors who when they get tested, we'll see whether they did the correct exam. 


Michael Carrese: So, you would be talking about ‘you never made eye contact with me,’ for example, or things of that nature. 


Susan Spielberg: Right, right. Or, you know, “Please lie down on the table,” and then you lie down, and then they say, “Get up,” and it's like, “Okay, I'm not a youngster. Would you like to offer me your hand to help me get up from the table,” those kinds of things.


Michael Carrese: Yeah, it's a really valuable aspect of medical education. I worked in an academic medical center for a while, and I know the students talked about how valuable that was. So, good for you. Let's go a little deeper into your background and find out how you got started in your career in education. 


Susan Spielberg: I have a BA from the University of California at Berkeley in Spanish and History. I then got a Master's in education from the University of Hartford in guidance and counseling, as well as a sixth-year certificate in secondary school administration. I started teaching public school. I did middle school, I did high school, I did some adjunct work at the University of Connecticut, and Teikyo Post University in Connecticut as well. When we moved to Florida, I started work at LECOM and that's how I got into the medical education field. S


After doing standardized patient, they were building the dental school at that time, and when the dental school opened, my husband and I were both asked to become problem-based learning facilitators. So, I did that for several years, and I really enjoyed it, loved it as an educator. We were able to really not only emphasize the science part of solving cases, but to do the facilitation of interaction between the group as well, which I told the students was really very important because at some point in time, they will have an office -- whether it's their own or working for somebody --and how do you deal with people in your group, who are aggressive, assertive, obnoxious, or quiet? How do you learn to do that in a way that you all end up being able to have consensus and work well together? To me, the affective is just as important as the academics. Obviously, you have to know what you're doing, but it’s also the way in which you do it which reverts back, of course, to my role as the standardized patient giving feedback. So it was all sort of connected. 


After several years as a facilitator, we discovered that there probably was a need to have a student advisor -- although the dean liked the word education specialist better -- to deal with not only those students who are having difficulty with their academics, but emotionally as well. There seems to be a real issue of transition these days from undergraduate school to graduate school, and one of my roles is to guide them in that transition and make it easier for them to navigate the whole process and the system. I deal with those students who don't perform well academically and in the lab because I’m in charge of the tutoring service as well. We have a peer tutoring program, and I run that program. 


I'm always looking to see what's the best way that I can help my students succeed. I have to tell you, I'm just very proactive because some days I think if I didn't reach out to them, they may never come to see me. There are a lot of people who I find have difficulty asking for help. They just don't ask for help, and that's why I find the need to go find them and offer my help. Once that relationship is established, we continue it whether it's giving them information on how to study smarter, not harder or whether it's how to be organized and do good time management. As you know, it's a difficult curriculum in any kind of medical dental school, and it's important to know how to manage that without cramming and then forgetting. It's all about retention and good monitoring of the information, not just spitting it out for a multiple-choice test and then moving on. 


Michael Carrese: Well, I have to say, you sound like an absolutely fabulous resource for those students to have, given everything you've been talking about. Obviously, your role has inspired young health professionals, or they wouldn't have nominated you for the award. We'll be actually sharing with you some of what they said in their nominations. But first, I'd like to hear who inspired you to teach.


Susan Spielberg: So believe it or not -- it sounds sort of ridiculous -- but I knew in fifth grade that I wanted to be a teacher. I had a fifth-grade teacher named Mrs. Lesser who chose me to help her. You know, in the old days, we would call that teacher's pet. But I knew then that this was something that I always wanted to do. My parents, of course, were a huge influence and encouraged me to go into education. That was their goal for me. Recognizing as well, that back in the day, there were not as many options available to women as there are today in terms of career choices. It was mainly education, nursing, social work, and secretarial were the key areas that women looked at to go into so that they could have a career and they could have a family and, you know, all of the sort of old-fashioned criteria that now I'm glad to see have changed tremendously. 


Michael Carrese: Oh, absolutely. So in order to win the award, you received a lot of nominations and testimonials. And at this point, I get to embarrass you and read some of them. So, stand by. This is just a snapshot of what the nominators said about you. 

“Susan is a valuable student learning resource, and she works tirelessly with students to help them succeed. She can always be counted on to help students and work with them during some of their saddest academic moments. She also has been instrumental in helping us learn the skills that we need to maintain that success throughout our career.”


So, what's your reaction to that? 


Susan Spielberg: First of all, I'm honored. I'm proud, and I just love getting feedback from my students because that way I continue to feel that I'm doing the job that I'm there to do. I do keep in touch with a lot of my students. I told you before that I work with dental students and the pharmacy students, but I also work with a lot of master's students. LECOM has an MMS program, and a lot of them who go into that program then transition into either the medical or the dental or the dental school. That means I’m working with them during their master's year where they're getting a really deep introduction to the sciences, more so than some of them had as an undergraduate. I get to mentor a lot of them and give them advice and I would say there are a tremendous number of them who come back to me later and really show their appreciation for what they put into practice that began as theory. 


Michael Carrese: Yeah, that's very rewarding, I guess, would be the right word for it. So, all of you listening out there, go back and tell your teachers and the other people who helped you in your schooling how wonderful they were. It doesn't take much time and it means a lot, right? 


Susan Spielberg: Yes. 


Michael Carrese: So as you know, Osmosis has six core values, which I'm going to list off here: Start With the Heart, Spread Joy, Have Each Other's Backs, Imagine More, Open Your Arms and Reach Further. Is there one of those that you feel you embody best and tell us why?


Susan Spielberg: I don't know if I can limit it to one. I guess Heart and Spread Joy are two of the basic ones. I love what I do. I have lots of friends who are retired and they can't understand why I'm still working when they're out there playing, and I say because I love what I do. I love it every minute of every day I walk into the building. I just enjoy meeting the students, talking with them, especially the ones who come to me for the first time trying to find out what their needs are and how I can help meet those needs. By doing that, I like to think I spread joy. 


I'm always all over the building saying hello to all the students, whether they need me at the moment or not. They all know who I am. I know most of them. I know all of them by face. I don't know all of them necessarily by name, but that's what I love because I want them to know that I am there if they need something. It's not only just for those who are having academic issues. You know, at orientation, I say to them that where you came from, you were all at the top of the class or you wouldn't have gotten in. But now we have a new situation where there has to be another top, middle and bottom. So, for those who then experience a poor test grade or something, there's a lot of real emotional response to that because these are people who say, “I've never failed anything before.”


Michael Carrese: Right.


Susan Spielberg: I have to help them understand the situation that goes with that and how then to improve and bring their grades up back up to where they were as an undergraduate, always pointing out to them that what might have worked for them in undergraduate school doesn't necessarily work for them now. There are more courses, there are harder courses that go in depth, and they can't just choose their schedule. This is the curriculum. This is what you have to do in order to become a dentist, to become a pharmacist. I joke, like, “No, you can't just decide to go to class on Tuesday and Thursday or pick ten o'clock classes instead of eight o'clock class. It doesn't sort of work that way.”


Michael Carrese: Well, I think you picked the right one there, Spread Joy. Your enthusiasm and your energy are very apparent just in this short conversation we've had with you. 


Susan Spielberg: There are a few others. I like Have Each Other's Backs. The students know that I am their advocate, and I think that's very important for them. They know that I am the point person. If they have a question about anything, they can usually come to me because they figure either I know the answer or I know where to get the answer for them. I learned to know the difference between whining and concern. 


Michael Carrese: Very important. 


Susan Spielberg: And I'm constantly Reaching Further to expand not only my own knowledge, but to help them advance their studies and navigate the system. I also try to work with new faculty who have not taught before so that I can help them improve their lecture skills and their testing abilities. 


Michael Carrese: Well, you sound like you're a very busy person there.


Susan Spielberg: And I want you to know I only work three days a week! 


Michael Carrese: Well, of course, you're exhausted! You can only work three days! 


Susan Spielberg: Students will say, “Are you going to be in tomorrow?” It's like, “No, I only work three days a week.” And they say, “No, you're here all the time.” I say, “You just think I'm here all the time because you see me everywhere, but I'm really not.” 


Michael Carrese: Oh, that's great. So, as you look ahead, what do you see for yourself in the future and how do you see LECOM making its way over the next few years? 


Susan Spielberg: So for me, just to keep doing what I'm doing. What is the old expression? Keep on trucking. I hope that I can just continue with this job that I have. LECOM right now is planning on some expansions to their program. They are opening a new medical school in Jacksonville, they just opened a podiatry school in Pennsylvania, and they're talking about increasing the enrollment in the dental school itself. I'm the only education specialist in Bradenton and I'm hoping that this sets the example so that they will be able to provide this position for the other campuses as well as they open up. Because the need is becoming greater and greater for students to not only have academic advice in terms of study skills and time management and whatnot, but just for emotional support, for somebody who can give them confidence. You know, I laugh some days. I go home and tell my husband stories and he says to me, “You sound like you're the grandma of LECOM.” And I say, “Well, you told me a couple of years ago I was the mother of LECOM. So somehow, I've gotten older along the way.” But that's OK. Because once I give these students information about how to improve the way they're studying, then they just sort of keep coming back because a lot of them just need encouragement. “How are you doing? Everything OK? Are we doing it?” You know that kind of thing, and somebody that they can come to if they're anxious or whatever the need might be. 


Michael Carrese: Yes. And obviously this is happening throughout higher education. I mean, schools really started to wrap a lot of services around students because obviously the schools want them to stay and succeed and complete. 


Susan Spielberg: Right. Right. Right.


Michael Carrese: So as a teaching company, we love filling knowledge gaps. Is there a topic that you'd like to talk about where you think, boy, I just wish more people -- whether it's in the medical education space or otherwise -- understood it, and it would be great if Osmosis could focus on that.


Susan Spielberg: Well, first of all, I have to tell you -- prejudiced as I may be and happy as you will be to hear -- that Osmosis is my first go-to advice. I really find the videos invaluable, especially for those students who are visual learners. I always ask my students, are you visual? Are you auditory? And a lot of them, they read a chapter over and over again about a mechanism of some sort and they just can't get it. Well, they go to the video and there it is spelled out for them. Now I say to them, “Either you can watch the video first and then go back to the book or the PowerPoint, or you can read something. If you don't get it, don't spend two hours trying to figure it out. Maybe you need to see this visually.” So, you go to Osmosis and there it is short, sweet to the point. 


Then, of course, I encourage them to buy the package because they get the quizzes, the playlist, the flashcards, the whole deal. Especially in the dental school. There are two years of academics before they go to the clinic. Problem-based learning is one of the largest parts of our curriculum and I have many students who say they could not have gotten through PBL without the use of Osmosis. 


Michael Carrese: Wow. We love hearing that, obviously. It's great to know it's working on the ground.


Susan Spielberg: I love your videos on medical systems. I'm happy to see that you keep increasing the dental videos. I would hope you would keep adding more to that particular area of your program, and pharmacy, I recommend as well. One of the things I thought about -- because you do a lot of the learning issues...I love your one on Problem Based Learning -- I told the dean when he does orientation, never mind your presentation, just show the Osmosis PBL video. It says it all. But the ones on building a memory palace, testing effect, and spaced repetition, those are the ones that I use and recommend the most. 


But I'm thinking if you want to spread out a little bit more, that you might want to do things on business management for those students who are thinking of buying a practice when they graduate or joining a practice. And also the two biggies: ethics and professionalism. Those are two areas that because of the current climate, I think more of an emphasis has to be put on those two areas. What does it mean to be a professional? How do you behave? How do you dress? How do you address your patients? How do you get involved in talking to people? 


You talked about standardized patients that we did at the med school. One of the things I would love to have is a standardized patient at the dental school as well, because one of the things that comes up is due to texting. Email has gone by the boards now. It's all texting Students these days have difficulty talking to people in person and getting all the information that they need. They don't know how to chit chat. You know, they may know how to get the basics, “What's your name? Where'd you come from? What medicine?” That kind of thing. But how do you put the patient at ease? What do you do with a patient who's afraid to be at the dentist? I think maybe some kind of techniques or practice for them would be very helpful. 


Michael Carrese: That's great. And it's very interesting because we just had Dr. Abebe Bekele on the program. He's the Dean of the University of Global Health Equity in Rwanda, and when we asked him that question, he had the same answer. Professionalism and ethics would be great, great topics to cover in an Osmosis video. So we're getting the message on that one, loud and clear. 


Susan Spielberg: I guess so. I guess so. 


Michael Carrese: So, as we wrap up here, we want to give you a chance to thank anybody you'd like to shout out to -- peers or students or anybody else. 


Susan Spielberg: Well, I'd like to, of course, thank all of my students. I love them all. I love the feedback they give me. I like interacting with them. I especially would like to thank Dr. Todd Nolan, who is my colleague and immediate supervisor for nominating me. And of course, my husband and my children who are grown, but who have been very, very supportive and encouraging for me in my quest to never retire. 


Michael Carrese: Well, I hope you don't based on everything I've heard you say. It's really been delightful to meet you and to hear about all of the contributions you make at LECOM. I mean, it almost makes me want to go back to school. Almost, almost. I'm not that foolish. Anyway, thank you so much for joining us. Congratulations again, and we're wishing you all the best in the coming year. We want to thank you on behalf of Osmosis for all the work you're doing to train the next generation of healthcare professionals.


Susan Spielberg: Thank you for your program. And thank you for all of the people who work there who have been so nice whenever I've had to talk to anybody. 


Michael Carrese: Well, it’s great to hear that. I’m Michael Carrese, thanks for checking out this special episode of Raise the Line. If you'd like to learn about the other faculty award winners from 2022, please check out osmosis.org/faculty-awards. And as always, remember to do your part to raise the line and strengthen the healthcare system. We're all in this together.