Medical Education, Med Ed Fellowship Director Interview Series

Medical Education Fellowship at University of Chicago

The EMRA Education Committee is excited to bring you the Medical Education Fellowship Director Interview Series, which will allow Medical Education Fellowship Directors a platform to describe their fellowship program, highlight different medical education career paths, and provide resources for potential fellows. 
If you are a MedEd Fellowship Director interested in submitting a profile on your program, please email EducationCtte@emra.org.

Medical Education Fellowship at University of Chicago

Director: James Ahn, MD, MHPE
Title: Associate Professor of Medicine, Associate Program Director, Medical Education Fellowship Director
Institution: University of Chicago

Tell us about you and your program.
Our 2-year program focuses on professional development in three realms:

  1. Teaching expertise
  2. Administrative skills and leadership development
  3. Medical education research and scholarship

Our fellows have multiple local and national opportunities to practice and mature their teaching skills, as well as formal instruction in creating and delivering educational content. Fellows have a fully immersive administrative experience with the opportunity to integrate within our UGME and GME leadership teams by serving as Interim Assistant Clerkship Directors and Interim Assistant Program Directors, respectively. Further, the fellowship provides a robust research training infrastructure through personal mentorship, classwork, and the strong education network at the University of Chicago and Pritzker School of Medicine. This three-pronged approach to fellowship training has ensured, and will continue to ensure, future academic success for our alumni.

How did you get involved in medical education, and what is your career path that led you to your Fellowship Director position?
I began my journey into medical education in 2010 as the inaugural medical education fellow at the University of Chicago. I had originally been considering a career at a hybrid-type program, until, as part of my residency scholarly project, I helped a team revamp the two-year didactic curriculum. Shortly thereafter, I was hooked! During my fellowship, I pursued a Master of Health Professions Education at the University of Illinois-Chicago, which laid the foundation for future curricular design and scholarly efforts in medical education. The training from the fellowship program, along with a dash of some serendipity :), have led me to where I am now.

What are the benefits to completing a fellowship in medical education?
Fellowship, admittedly, is not for all and should only be considered if your career arc is bending towards subspecialization and/or academics. For example, I began my journey and started fellowship when there was a relative paucity of options, and the pursuit of fellowship was met with puzzled looks. This was a sign of the times, as a residency graduate could enter academics and obtain leadership positions (APD, etc.) without advanced training. In this era, this pathway is becoming increasingly rare and fellowship has become almost necessary for entry. Additionally, fellowship training allows learners the time to focus their professional development. This creation of an early niche can serve as a foundation and accelerant for a career, as compared to a faculty member who has not had advanced training.

Does your program have a particular niche within medical education or unique aspects potential fellows should be aware of?
Our program focuses on the development of leaders in both undergraduate and graduate medical education. This preparation for leadership occurs through a thoughtful curriculum that allows our fellows training and autonomy to grow through their two years. Additionally, our program focuses on creating physicians who will emerge with the ability to contribute meaningful scholarship and become thought leaders in medical education.

What are the different career paths that fellowship graduates from your program have taken after graduation?
Our fellows have assumed leadership positions in both undergraduate and graduate medical education immediately after graduating. Additionally, our fellows have been featured as national speakers and educators, as well as been the recipients of medical education research grants. Finally, our graduated fellows have consistently contributed to the promotion of medical education via organization leadership, scholarship, and creation of enduring educational materials.

What advice do you have for residents who are just starting to get involved in medical education, especially residents who may not have a lot of resources at their own program?
With our own residents, I always encourage engaging with the low-hanging fruit first to see if this path makes sense. To that end, this means reaching out to the EMIG, medical school, and/or residency to participate in teaching opportunities. Institutional leaders, such as the fellowship director, clerkship director, or program director, are great mentors that can guide you towards the right people and opportunities. If education on this level continues to captivate your interest, then asking these same mentors for research projects is a next natural step. Further, you can amplify your own projects and mentorship by engaging with organizations such as CORD, EMRA, and SAEM. Being able to demonstrate teaching, research, and organizational service is important as this externalizes your interest on your CV.

What qualities does your program look for in potential fellows?
The main word of advice I always have when I receive this question is: “potential.” I say this to hopefully decrease the anxiety level of any current and future applicants. Expecting a trainee to have multiple projects, grants, or leadership positions is unreasonable since your primary objective during residency is learning how to become an emergency medicine physician. I believe that this is why any reasonable fellowship director can truly only look for potential in their applicants versus true proof of concept. This potential can be expressed in many different ways: teaching engagements, project development, organizational participation, etc. The most important characteristic is this demonstration of potential and how this fits into applicants’ future career plans.

What is the application and interview process like at your program (ie, application requirements, timeline, match process, participation in CORD universal offer day)?
We are currently revising all our timelines and will be updating this shortly. The CORD Medical Education Fellowship Community of Practice will also be revising their recruitment guidelines as well, and we hope to have an update on this soon.

What are your thoughts on the value of a master’s degree in medical education? Does your program require it or accommodate fellows who want to pursue one?
A master’s degree program is invaluable if you are hoping to pair your leadership career with the pursuit of scholarship and/or development of enduring educational materials. Pursuit of an advanced degree creates a foundational framework for educational theory and best practices that is drawn from on a near-daily basis when you choose to specialize in medical education. While a fellowship is certainly valuable without a master’s degree program, the professional development obtained via a master’s degree in medical education can truly amplify your career impact. Because of this value, our program requires the pursuit of a master’s degree.

If a resident is interested in getting to know more about your program, what is the best way for them to get in touch with you?
Please reach out to me at jamesahn@uchicago.edu!

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