The UW School of Medicine is unusual in that it addresses the needs of multiple states, and its educational program links classes, clerkships, teachers and students throughout the five-state region of Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho — otherwise known as WWAMI. The region includes six classroom teaching sites at six outstanding universities, hundreds of medical training sites and thousands of people.
Viewed one way, a major, five-state curriculum renewal — with a goal to update and standardize classes throughout the region — could be an enormous challenge.
“We heard it over and over,” says Michael Ryan, M.D., Res. ’89, Chief Res. ’90, associate dean for curriculum. “People told us we couldn’t do this curriculum in the region.” Ryan and his collaborators, including Suzanne Allen and Marjorie Wenrich, MPH, chief of staff for UW Medicine, disagreed.
“We used WWAMI as the reason to do curriculum renewal,” says Ryan. “It’s why we’re successful — because we have so much talent throughout the five-state region. Why not use everyone’s brainpower and energy to build the world’s best curriculum?”
The seed for curriculum renewal was planted during the School’s last national accreditation — a yearlong process of self-study accompanied by a site visit. The accreditation went well, and the School received the maximum accreditation term. At the same time, many medical schools nationwide were starting to respond to rapid advances in medical knowledge, technology and a new understanding regarding the value of active, integrated, lifelong learning.
“Medicine is changing rapidly, and we need to be prepared to change with it,” says Paul G. Ramsey, M.D., CEO, UW Medicine, and dean of the UW School of Medicine. After the accreditation was completed, he brought key leaders together to consider employing continuous curriculum improvement and assessment, rather than the usual pattern of examining a curriculum every 15 or 20 years.
The idea resonated with Allen, Ryan and other leaders, who initiated a curriculum renewal process focused on continuous improvement. Starting in 2010 — 100 years after the Flexner report — they met with people throughout the region, listening to and speaking with students, teachers and staff about curriculum successes and potential improvements. Paramount throughout their deliberations was the UW School of Medicine’s goal: educating doctors from the region for the region.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the results,” says Ramsey. “Having the region come together to embrace a new idea so readily — one designed to produce even better, more adaptable doctors — is a new high in our WWAMI collaboration.”