A Medical Education Paradigm for the Future

A Medical Education Paradigm for the Future

George Thibault and the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation help the Academy push progress.

George Thibault knows as well as anyone that medicine is an ever-evolving frontier, continuously fraught with new challenges that demand innovative solutions. In fact, Thibault, president of the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and an Academy governor, is the first to admit that his medical school education at Harvard would, by itself, be insufficient in today's medical world.

"Health care professionals," he says, "now need different kinds of experience to prepare them for a very different world than the one I was prepared for when I finished my training."

Thibault stresses that the health care system evolves so quickly that current health care professional training, in certain respects, is often obsolete by the time a graduate enters his or her chosen field. Factors such as the diversification of patient demographics, the rise of chronic disease, and the shift in care delivery from hospitals to community-based interventions make for a model in flux.

"Educational programs," he insists, "need to catch up with those changes."

Brooke Grindlinger, director of scientific programs at the New York Academy of Sciences, agrees wholeheartedly. To that end, Thibault and the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation, recently partnered with the Academy to create the Translational Medicine Initiative. A three-year partnership that began in early 2010, the initiative fosters discussion and collaboration among physicians and basic researchers, industry and academic scientists, and public health experts, among others in the medical arena. The goal is to enable participants to learn from recent scientific breakthroughs, receive career development in translational medicine, and, ultimately, decrease the time needed to convert basic science into clinical applications.

The partnership, Grindlinger says, is accomplishing nothing less than helping to "shape the future education, research, and clinical care practices of thousands of physicians, scientists, and educators around the globe." This is achieved through programs like the Translational Medicine Discussion Group—a forum for distributing information to the larger scientific and medical communities—and partnership-sponsored Academy memberships for medical school students and clinical fellows, which expose them to cutting-edge discoveries and enhance their delivery of care. Additionally, the Translational Medicine Initiative, whose findings are disseminated via simulcast webinars, multimedia eBriefings, podcasts, and articles in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, grants students access to the Academy's Science Alliance events, which provide nontraditional career development opportunities.

The Translational Medicine Initiative, Thibault says, goes hand in hand with The Macy Foundation's simple yet lofty goal: improving the health of the public through improving health professional education, a philosophy that was at the core of Thibault's esteemed career as a Harvard physician and educator. He spent more than 40 years with the university, in posts including founding director of the Academy at Harvard Medical School and chief medical officer at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and he has brought his educational values and beliefs with him to The Macy Foundation.

"We're not abandoning what we've done before," Thibault says of progress in the industry, "but we need to do more and improve upon it for this different health care system, delivery system, and patient population."

"We're building on the excellence of the past but adapting it to a changing world," he says.

After all, Thibault explains, the irony of medical training is that physicians traditionally spend most of their education alongside classmates in their particular specialty as opposed to those in complimentary fields with whom they will spend most of their careers.

"We think more of the educational process should be learning with and from other health professionals," he says, noting that The Macy Foundation has received commitments from more than 15 schools and six major professional societies—including nursing and medicine—who recognize the importance of making joint-curriculum planning "the educational paradigm for the future."

At the end of the day, however, Thibault—whom Grindlinger calls an integral Academy partner with a "broad and thoughtful perspective"—is careful to note that while The Macy Foundation's strategy has certainly adapted over the years, its core mission is as strong as ever: creating a healthier society by empowering the professionals who live and breathe medicine.

"We don't have enough resources ourselves to bring about the changes we want to see," Thibault says, "so a large part is communicating ideas and getting others to pick up ideas. Ultimately, we have to go beyond what we alone as a foundation can do." The Translational Medicine Initiative does just that, lending Academy resources to The Macy Foundation's mission.


Noah Rosenberg is a journalist in New York City.