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Melissa Fischer makes her mark in medical education

Associate dean shaping how future generations of physicians are trained

By Megan Bard and Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

November 04, 2019

The Women in Science video series on UMassMedNow highlights the many areas of research conducted by women at UMass Medical School.

Melissa Fischer, MD, MEd, is as passionate about teaching medicine as she is about practicing it. At UMass Medical School, she is shaping how generations of physicians are trained.

“I saw that medicine and education shared advocacy, learning and teaching, and continuous problem solving,” said Dr. Fischer, professor of medicine and associate dean for undergraduate medical education, curriculum innovation and iCELS. “The connection between medicine and education is so close and clear that it was a natural step for me.”

She was inspired by her internal medicine residency program director at Stanford University, who was one of the first in the field to formally focus on medical education. Fischer decided to earn a master’s in education, also at Stanford. 

“Being at the right place at the right time was in part the people I met, but in part also the recognition in medical education that we needed to train people to teach, and that we needed more formal curricula and teaching methods,” said Fischer. “It was the beginning of us in medical education thinking about how to create learning experiences that have bases in authenticity and educational research, a real change in the landscape.”

On faculty at the School of Medicine since 2002, Fischer was appointed associate dean for undergraduate medical education in 2010. In this role she oversees the School of Medicine’s curriculum, student assessment and faculty development. She was instrumental in developing the School of Medicine’s Learner-centered Integrated Curriculum in 2014. In recognition of her leadership role in this undertaking, she received the school’s inaugural Sarah Stone Excellence in Education Award in 2014 for advancing education, community and scholarship for the students and faculty of UMass Medical School.

In 2017, she was appointed associate dean for academic innovation and the Interprofessional Center for Experiential Learning and Simulation (iCELS), including its standardized patient and simulation programs and Innovation Lab. Fischer and colleagues from the School of Medicine and the Graduate School of Nursing led the development of the Opioid Safe-prescribing Training Immersion curriculum to engage trainees and practicing prescribers across disciplines. The project was initiated in response to a call from Governor Baker to address the opioid addiction crisis in the commonwealth. The collaboration exemplifies the focus on interprofessional education at the commonwealth’s only integrated academic health sciences center, where the Graduate School of Nursing and Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences are co-located with the School of Medicine.  

“Whether it’s community engagement through the two-week Population Health Clerkship service learning experience, or in iCELS, addressing domestic violence or opioid safe prescribing, we’re able to work closely with our nursing colleagues,” Fischer said. “In addition to interprofessional education, we’re working a lot more on community engagement, on how do we bring patients and community partners into our learning experiences, and how do we help to involve them in medical education and in medicine. Ultimately everything that we do is for patient care.”

Fischer is committed to incorporating current trends in medical education, including experiential learning, flipped classrooms, and peer-to-peer teaching and learning.

“One of the most exciting things about medical education is that it’s constantly changing, and for people who are interested in problem solving and in challenges and in working with a wide variety of colleagues, it’s a tremendous field,” she said.

Related story on UMassMedNow:
UMass Medical School recognized with national award for opioid safe-prescribing curriculum

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